September 2021
Volume 21, Issue 9
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2021
Visual-Emotional Association with Vowel Phonemes: Support of the Gleam-Glum Effect when Paired with Visual Imagery
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Michael K. McBeath
    Arizona State University
    Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics
  • Christine S.P. Yu
    Arizona State University
  • Heather Barnes
    Arizona State University
  • Viridiana Benitez
    Arizona State University
  • Footnotes
    Acknowledgements  This research was partially funded by a grant from the Arizona State University Honors College.
Journal of Vision September 2021, Vol.21, 2126. doi:
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      Michael K. McBeath, Christine S.P. Yu, Heather Barnes, Viridiana Benitez; Visual-Emotional Association with Vowel Phonemes: Support of the Gleam-Glum Effect when Paired with Visual Imagery. Journal of Vision 2021;21(9):2126.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Introduction: The Gleam-Glum Effect is the finding that words containing the vowel phoneme /i/ (as in “gleam”) are rated more emotionally positive compared to those containing /Ʌ/ (as in “glum”), an auditory equivalent to Darwin/Ekman’s visually-recognizable facial emotion expressions. The theory is that the same facial musculature that is associated with visually-recognizable emotional expressions also favors production of auditorily-recognizable sounds. The Gleam-Glum Effect has been confirmed in English and Mandarin, and with both real words and pseudo-words. Method: This study develops a new methodology to test the Gleam-Glum Effect using visual imagery. 119 undergraduate participants matched verbally presented monosyllabic nonsense pseudo-words to either a positive or negative cartoon picture. On each trial, a voiced instruction presented two pseudo-words (e.g. “Zeek” and “Zuk”) and two cartoon pictures (e.g. happy dog playing with an inflated ball and sad dog looking at a flat ball). Participants were instructed to match one of the words with either picture. The experiment was run online, with 32 counterbalanced trials per participant. Results: Our principal hypothesis that /i/-words would be matched with positive pictures and /Ʌ/-words with negative ones was robustly confirmed. Every one of the 64 pseudo-words was matched with the positive or negative picture in the predicted direction by more than 50% of the participants (binomial p=10 to -19) and by an average of 77% of participants (t(63)=27.47, p<0.0001, d=6.92). 94% of the pseudo-words matched at a p<0.05 level, with 55% at a p<0.0001 level. Discussion: The data robustly confirm our hypothesis, replicating previous research supporting the Gleam-Glum Effect. Our findings are the first to confirm this phoneme-emotion relationship with verbalized sounds and pictures. The results support the idea that the visually-recognizable musculature associated with positive and negative facial expressions also favors production of certain phonemic sounds that listeners recognize and associate with specific emotions.


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