Shape Words

2.4 based on 9 ratings

Updated on Jan 08, 2013

Think back to when you were a wee toddler, playing with toys that helped shape your amazing brain. Remember that game where you fit blocks into holes? Sure, it might have been a challenge back then, but you’d never mistake a square for a circle now that you’re a big kid. Right?

The mind is a funny thing. It can trick you into thinking just that. In this project you'll explore how our minds react to shapes that may be harder to recognize than usual.


If you mislabel a shape with the wrong shape word (for example, a triangle that says circle), will it take people longer to identify the shape?


  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Pen
  • Timer
  • Volunteers
  • Notebook


  1. Use scissors to cut out three circles, three squares, three triangles, three rectangles and three stars from a sheet
  2. Time to do a bit of sorting: separate your shapes into three piles, each containing one of each shape. Double-check that each pile has five shapes and that no shapes are repeated.
  3. Set aside the first pile.
  4. Use a pen to label each shape in the second pile with its correct shape name. Write the names in big, bold letters.
  5. For the third pile, write the wrong names of each shape with the same big, bold letters. For example, if you have a triangle, you can write down the shape name circle instead.
  6. Do you think this type of labeling will make a difference in how long your volunteers will take to identify each shape?
  7. Write down your best guess, often called a hypothesis, in your notebook.
  8. Gather up your volunteers. For this experiment, you can use kids or adults -- just make sure the kids are old enough to know all the shapes being used.
  9. Do not tell your volunteers that your project is testing the effect of tricky shape words. Just let them know that they will be completing a simple test to name shapes as fast as they can.
  10. Separately test each volunteer. Remind each one that they will be identifing the shape of the paper, not any words that may or may not be on the paper. Start by timing how long your volunteer takes to correctly name the shapes in the first pile, before timing the second and third pile.
  11. Record how long each volunteer takes to finish each pile in your notebook. For every volunteer, you should have a total of three times.
  12. Write all the times in your notebook. Did using tricky labeling make a difference?


Your volunteers should have taken the longest amount of time to identify the shapes in the third pile.


Our minds are complex things. The eyes and brain work together to form images in our head, and then process what we interpret that image to be. Unfortunately, our brain cannot process too many things at a time without mixing some ideas. Scientists have proven that our brains are drawn into interpreting words over backgrounds. Words pop out and make us want to read them in our minds. They force an idea into our head, and before we can move onto the next thought, we need to get rid of our last thought. Now what would happen if you change up the experiment and added color to gain the attention of your brain? Or how about trying to get your brain to focus on something else before it reads the words? There are so many experiments to try! Can you think of any more?

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