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21.2.11

Measuring the Cupertino Effect in the amygdale and cingulated cortex

The "Cupertino effect" is the bane of anyone who's used a digital word processor, iPhone, whatever.

Let me explain myself.

Imagine you're sending a text to your beautiful pregnant wife to let her know you'll be heading home soon. However, automatic text replacement ("autocorrect") fails you horribly:

Bradley Voytek Neuroscience cingulated amygdale autocorrect


While the appearance of this phenomenon in texting is relatively new, this problem has been around for quite a while. According to the Oxford University Press:
Some older spellcheckers had wordlists containing co-operation but not cooperation without the hyphen. So when a user typed in unhyphenated cooperation, the spellchecker would flag it as an error. The first suggestion thrown up was not co-operation, however, but Cupertino, the name of a city in northern California.
Turns out, this effect can be measured in the brain.

Haha, just kidding (but I bet someone will do an fMRI study about that now).

This effect can be measured in the literature though, to see who's not paying close enough attention to their paper editing. There are two words that Microsoft Word likes to "help out with". According to PubMed:

"Cingulated" is... not really a word... I have no idea why that's in the standard Word dictionary when "cingulate" is not. As for "amygdale": amygdale.

You see, if you just blindly have Word autocorrect your misspelled words, it will just change out what you write without you even noticing its effects. I've long since added the correct versions of the terms to my custom Word dictionary, but papers are still being published with the incorrect spelling of "cingulate" and "amygdala".

A neat way to visualize the effect Word has had is by looking at the nGram for "cingulated":

Bradley Voytek Neuroscience cingulated amygdale


The word "cinguated" is virtually non-existent until about 1997, when it suddenly takes off. The fact it shows up in nGram at all means it's appearing in published books, too.

To be fair, it appears that a number of the papers published in the neuroscientific literature with these errors were written by research groups that are from countries where English is not their first language. But these papers aren't just passing authors' scrutiny, but peer-reviewers and editors, too. It amazes me.

Another fun thing we can do with these words is to check out what they're associated with in the literature using brainSCANr.

Bradley Voytek Neuroscience cingulated amygdale


Compare that to the entry for "amygdala".

What's amazing to me is that papers with "amygdale" also have the correctly spelled "amygdala" in them!

It's something that journalists fall prey to as well. Here's an article from the LA Times from earlier this month Depression: Here's a gene that may make some folks more susceptible, talking about the "rostral anterior cingulated cortex".

So be warned neuroscience writers of all sorts: add some brainy terms to your Word dictionaries to prevent this kind of silliness!

(By the way, I'm not picking specifically on just the paper below, it just so happens to be the only manuscript that contains both incorrect terms in the title or abstract.)

ResearchBlogging.orgGraff-Guerrero, A., Pellicer, F., Mendoza-Espinosa, Y., Martínez-Medina, P., Romero-Romo, J., & de la Fuente-Sandoval, C. (2008). Cerebral blood flow changes associated with experimental pain stimulation in patients with major depression Journal of Affective Disorders, 107 (1-3), 161-168 DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2007.08.021

6 comments:

  1. Heh, I was pretty sure while reading the title that you had misspelled Amygdala. I'm less familiar with the Cingulate Cortex, but now I'm observing that Chrome's dictionary screws them both up too. However, when I searched for Cingulated Cortex on Google it correctly found the Wikipedia article on the Cingulate Cortex,

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  2. Spellcheckers throw up the weirdest suggestions sometimes. It's getting even worse for me now I have a Swype keyboard app...

    I was wondering what the AmEng plural of amygdala is? I'd pluralise it amygdalae, but I'm not even sure if that's right... I presume amygdala isn't already plural (an so one is an amygdalon)?

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  3. The French spelling is "amygdale." So apart from the auto-incorrected contingent, I bet many of the authors are francophone...

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  4. @Adam: I'm surprised Wikipedia doesn't have a redirect from "cingulated cortex" to "cingulate cortex", actually.

    @Neuromancy: How is the Swype keyboard worse? And yeah, the plural is amygdalae.

    @Sarang: You're probably right. Like I said, I'm more surprised the misspellings get past so many rounds of editing and reviewing, in general.

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  5. @Badley It's a qwerty keyboard that you drag your finger between the keys. It means that the weird suggestions are based on neighbouring keys rather than neighbouring letters, so you get suggestions that are wildly different to what you intended to type.

    How does the iPhone keyboard work? How does it get you from now?

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  6. @Neuromancy: The iPhone is just a qwerty keyboard, and if you misspell it tries to do predictive correction.

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