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Are Keyboards Influencing Baby Names?

????????????????????????????????????????A University of Chicago psychologist analyzed baby names cataloged for the past 50 years and found a modern right-side bias.

The psychology professor from the University of Chicago is doubling down on research that caused a great kerfuffle among linguists in 2012. In Daniel Casasanto’s previous paper, he presented the QWERTY effect, named after the standard American keyboard: that words typed using more letters on the right side of the keyboard (like y, u, i, o, p, m, n, j, k, l) tend to be viewed as more positive, while words typed with more letters from the left side (like z, x, c, v, b, a, s, d and f) tend to be viewed as more negative.

Now, in a paper to be presented this summer at the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Casasanto will present findings that show Americans have started to favor baby names typed with more right-side keys since 1990, the point his team chose as the beginning of the keyboard-centric era.

This builds on the same basic theory that people favor things on their dominant side, and because the vast majority of people are right-handed, that means most humans should associate positive feelings with the right side of the keyboard, too.

It just so happens that the top two baby names for 2013, announced on May 9 by the Social Security Administration, were Sophia and Noah, both of which use more letters from the right side than the left. But Casasanto, who used SSA data from 1960 to 2012 to do his analysis, warns that this isn’t a theory that operates on an individual, name-by-name level.

Since debuting the QWERTY effect, Casasanto has discovered that it holds true for multiple languages, some of which have keyboards shaped differently than the typical America computer; for made-up words, and for the individual letters on the right and left sides of the keyboard.

But he knows the assertion that spending all day at a desk could have an influence on what people choose to call their children is not going to go down easy with everyone.

“This intuition that we have a stable mental dictionary, a mental encyclopedia, is so deeply ingrained in psychology and linguistics, threats to that are threatening to our mind-view,” he says. “What we’re showing here is a new sense of non-arbitrariness in language, a new way in which the form of a word and the way we articulate it—not with our mouth but with our fingers—is connected to the meaning of those words.”

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