Shape descriptors for taste

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘sharp’ applied first to touch, then subsequently to taste (ca. 1000), visual shape (1340), and hearing (1390)” (Marks, 1978, p. 190; see also Williams, 1976). It would seem possible that the use of the term ‘sharp’ to describe a taste or flavour attribute actually reflects an implicit association between shape and taste/flavour quality (e.g., Velasco, Woods, Marks, Cheok, & Spence, 2016).


Note, however, that the way in which descriptors in one sensory modality apply to another sensory modality, may vary as a function of language (e.g., Shayan, Ozturk, Bowerman, & Majid, 2014; Shayan, Ozturk, & Sicoli, 2011). For example, Fenko, Otten, and Schifferstein (2010) have pointed to the fact that the word ‘sharp’ in Russian (острый) has a stronger association with gustation than with touch, whilst in English and Dutch, the words ‘sharp’ and ‘scherp’, respectively, have a stronger association with touch than with gustation.

Nevertheless, recent research has demonstrated that people do indeed match tastes (tastants and taste words) with shape aesthetic features such as curvature and symmetry of visual shapes. Those associations have been demonstrated in crossmodal matching tasks (Salgado-Montejo et al., 2015; Velasco, Woods, Deroy, & Spence, 2015) and have also been shown to give rise to crossmodal congruency effects (Velasco et al., 2016).



Fenko, A., Otten, J. J., & Schifferstein, H. N. (2010). Describing product experience in different languages: The role of sensory modalities. Journal of Pragmatics, 42, 3314-3327.

Marks, L. E. (1978). The unity of the senses: Interrelations among the modalities. New York, NY: Academic Press.

Salgado-Montejo, A., Alvarado, J. A., Velasco, C., Salgado, C. J., Hasse, K., & Spence, C. (2015). The sweetest thing: The influence of angularity, symmetry, and the number of elements on shape-valence and shape-taste matches. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1382.

Shayan, S., Ozturk, O., Bowerman, M., & Majid, A. (2014). Spatial metaphor in language can promote the development of cross-modal mappings in children. Developmental Science, 17, 636-643.

Shayan, S., Ozturk, O., & Sicoli, M. A. (2011). The thickness of pitch: Crossmodal metaphors in Farsi, Turkish, and Zapotec. The Senses and Society, 6, 96-105.

Velasco, C., Woods, A. T., Deroy, O., & Spence, C. (2015). Hedonic mediation of the crossmodal correspondence between taste and shape. Food Quality and Preference, 41, 151-158.

Velasco, C., Woods, A. T., Marks, L. E., Cheok, A. D., & Spence, C. (2016). The semantic basis of taste-shape associations. PeerJ, 4:e1644.