Want To Be Seen As Smart? Use A Middle Initial (Or Make One Up)
Researchers conducted several studies that they say suggest people ascribe greater intelligence and status to those whose signatures include one or more middle initials.
Kecia Lynn has worked as a technical writer, editor, software developer, arts administrator, summer camp director, and television host. A graduate of Case Western Reserve University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she is currently living in Iowa City and working on her first novel.
What's the Latest Development?
Newly published in the European Journal of Social Psychology is a paper suggesting that people whose professional names include one or more middle initials are perceived as having higher intelligence and social status that those who use just their first and last names. Authors and psychologists Wijnand A.P. Van Tilburg and Eric R. Igou conducted seven separate studies using different subject groups in a variety of test situations. In one study, they found that, given the opportunity to join a team competing in an intellectual (as opposed to an athletic) pursuit, more people were willing to sign up if the other members had middle initials.
What's the Big Idea?
Van Tilburg and Igou write that their results may reflect long-held cultural beliefs acquired through seeing items authored by professionals -- lawyers, doctors, professors, etc. -- who are presumed to be more intelligent than the people they serve. Such people often use their middle initials in formal correspondence and publishing. Also, they note that "social groups with habits of giving their children more middle names have overall more resources available for education." Interestingly, the "middle initial effect" appeared to increase with the number of middle initials.
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