I recently came across this report from the PsyBlog site that often produces nuggets of SuperSense relevent research. Apparently, people underperform in situations where poor outcomes are associated with the initials in their name. For example, researchers studied baseball records and found that baseball batters were much more likely to strikeout (that means failing to hit three pitched balls) if either their first or second name started with the letter “K.” K is used in baseball reports to denote a strikeout. Hmmmm must have been a chance coincidence.
But then the researchers found that people with names starting with A or B did better on academic performance than those whose names started with C or D. Surely not! Must just be a weird correlation. But here’s where it gets spooky. The researchers then performed an experiment where they gave participants an anagram solving test where the prizes either coincided with the participant’s own initials or not. The experimenters predicted that participants would be unconsciously drawn towards the lesser, consolation prize, if one of their initials coincided with the prize’s label. Consequently they would complete fewer anagrams. And would you believe it? That’s what they found.
So what’s going on? The claim is that we so love the sounds of our own names that we settle for outcomes that coincide alphabetically with our initials. This “implicit egotism” explains why researchers found that in a population of over 500,000 Belgians, people were significantly more likely to work for a company that shared the same initials. So that’s why I work at Bristol University after a brief spell at MIT and Harvard!