What’s in a Name?

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!


Filed under Research, supernatural

12 responses to “What’s in a Name?

  1. “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.”

    Hmmm…Diane says that this cannot be true, Bruce!!!

  2. No wonder I am so happy working at a law firm named after me!

  3. Gus

    This poses so many questions. “How many initials did the companies they worked for have to be shared by the Belgians in the test?” For example, if your initials are ABC, do you score a ‘positive’ if the company you work for contains A, B or C?
    But the bigger question must be, “Is there no end to the ludicrous ‘research’ that will attract grant money?” Oh, and why Belgians? They have mayonnaise on their chips for God’s sake.

  4. Arno

    This reminds me very strongly of the studies by Pelham (2002) and colleagues on implicit egotism. They found people preferred living in cities, taking jobs etc that matched their first name due to unconscious self-love. Their paper is, aptly named, Why Susie Sells Seashells By The Seashore.

    I also recall it had some hefty critique by Marcello Gallucci, which was responded to again by the original authors. It remains fun to see these debates still going on, and people still squeezing papers out of them.

  5. I’ve heard once that more people named ‘Ken’ move to Kentucky than on average.

  6. Boy, my “bogus” light just went on.
    This sound like horoscope mentality.
    I’d bet there is something wrong with these studies.

  7. polomint38

    I’m only reading this site because it is written by someone called Bruce.

    People called Bruce Geniuses all!


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