The QWERTY Effect on the Web: How Typing Shapes the Meaning of Words in Online Human-Computer Interaction

David Garcia and Markus Strohmaier

Proceedings of the 25th International Conference on World Wide Web (2016)


The QWERTY effect postulates that the keyboard layout influences word meanings by linking positivity to the use of the right hand and negativity to the use of the left hand. For example, previous research has established that words with more right hand letters are rated more positively than words with more left hand letters by human subjects in small scale experiments. In this paper, we perform large scale investigations of the QWERTY effect on the web. Using data from eleven web platforms related to products, movies, books, and videos, we conduct observational tests whether a hand-meaning relationship can be found in text interpretations by web users. Furthermore, we investigate whether writing text on the web exhibits the QWERTY effect as well, by analyzing the relationship between the text of online reviews and their star ratings in four additional datasets. Overall, we find robust evidence for the QWERTY effect both at the point of text interpretation (decoding) and at the point of text creation (encoding). We also find under which conditions the effect might not hold. Our findings have implications for any algorithmic method aiming to evaluate the meaning of words on the web, including for example semantic or sentiment analysis, and show the existence of \"dactilar onomatopoeias\" that shape the dynamics of word-meaning associations. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first work to reveal the extent to which the QWERTY effect exists in large scale human-computer interaction on the web.