How people judge your personality based on your name
Why would people rate certain names as being more extraverted or more agreeable?
Extraversion, thy name is Katie. And Jack. And Carter. But not, it turns out, Joanna, Owen, or Lauren: these individuals instead embody different traits, like emotionality and agreeableness.
At least, that's how people rated the personalities of those names in a recent paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. According to the study, we associate the sounds in names with certain traits: names containing k and t sounds are judged as having quite different profiles than those with the more resonant n or l sounds. It will come as no surprise, however, that in the real world Katies are not actually any more likely to be extraverted than Laurens.
Past studies have found that people tend to associate particular sounds with certain shapes: the word "bouba" with a round shape and "kiki" with a spiky one, for example. And we may also instinctively associate shapes and sounds with particular emotional states.
But David Sidhu and colleagues at the University of Calgary were interested in whether people relate sounds to more abstract concepts, like personalities. In particular, the team wanted to know whether we judge people's personalities differently depending on whether their names contain "sonorants" — resonant or nasal sounds like m, l and n — or "voiceless stops" — short sounds that are formed by blocking air flow in the vocal tract, such as t, k and p.
Across three studies, the team showed a total of 180 participants a series of traits that reflect different aspects of personality like conscientiousness (e.g. "hard-working") or extraversion (e.g. "social"). At the same time, they displayed names that contained either sonorants (e.g. "Lauren") or voiceless stops (e.g. "Katie").
In one study, participants saw a pair of names, and had to pick which one best matched a given trait, while in another they saw a single name, and had to rate how well the trait described that person. In a third study, participants rated the personalities of made-up names with similar sounds: "Mauren" instead of Lauren; "Tatie" instead of Katie.
In all three studies, participants rated sonorant names like Lauren higher on agreeableness, and in two of the studies they also rated them higher in emotionality and conscientiousness. In contrast, voiceless stop names like Katie were rated higher in extraversion.
Why would people rate certain names as being more extraverted or more agreeable? Perhaps, reasoned the researchers, in the real world people's names truly do reflect their personalities. So in another study, they asked more than 1,000 participants to complete online personality surveys — but found no real evidence for a link between the participants' personalities and the sounds in their own names.
Another possibility is that people have already made associations between particular names and traits: perhaps they have a particularly agreeable friend called Lauren, for example. But the fact that the researchers saw the same effects even for made-up names suggests that this is not the case.
Instead, the researchers suggest, we may have learned to associate certain sounds with particular emotional contexts. For example, people may tend to use softer, sonorant sounds in calmer situations, and so we perceive those with sonorant sounds in their names — the Laurens and the Owens — as more agreeable and conscientious. Alternatively, the relationship between sound and personality could be more metaphorical: the short abrupt sounds in "Jack" and "Katie", for instance, might bring to mind the quick, bouncy energy of someone with a more extraverted personality.
Whatever the reason, it seems unlikely that the information gleaned from the sounds in a name will have much impact on how we judge a person in the real world, where we usually have a lot of other information about them. But knowing how a sound brings to mind other characteristics could be useful in some situations. A company naming its product probably should consider whether the sounds in the name will affect people's perceptions, suggest the researchers, while an author might want to give their protagonist a name that fits their personality.
- How your name impacts your love life and career - Big Think ›
- The Big Five Personality Traits and What They Mean to Psychologists ›
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University of Utah research finds that men are especially well suited for fisticuffs.
- With males having more upper-body mass than women, a study looks to find the reason.
- The study is based on the assumption that men have been fighters for so long that evolution has selected those best-equipped for the task.
- If men fought other men, winners would have survived and reproduced, losers not so much.
Built for mayhem<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIyMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzk4NTQ2OX0.my6nML12F3fEQu3H4G0BScdqgaMZkRQHxgyj-Cmjmzk/img.jpg?width=980" id="906fc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd77af7a881631355ed8972437846394" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers are, of course, talking averages here, not stating a rule: There are plenty of accomplished female pugilists, as well as lots of males who have no idea how to throw a punch.</p><p>Even so, says co-author <a href="https://www.wofford.edu/academics/majors-and-programs/biology/faculty-and-staff" target="_blank">Jeremy Morris</a> says, "The general approach to understanding why sexual dimorphism evolves is to measure the actual differences in the muscles or the skeletons of males and females of a given species, and then look at the behaviors that might be driving those differences."</p><p>Carrier has been interested in the idea that millennia of male fighting has shaped certain structures in male bodies. Previous research has reinforced his hunch:</p> <ul> <li><a href="https://jeb.biologists.org/content/216/2/236" target="_blank">When a hand is formed into a fist, its structure is self-protective</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://unews.utah.edu/flat-footed-fighters/" target="_blank">Heels planted firmly on the ground augment upper-body power</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24909544" target="_blank">A study examined facial bone structure as being especially well-suited for taking a punch</a>.</li> </ul> <p>(That last one is our favorite. Do you know the German word "<a href="https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Backpfeifengesicht" target="_blank">backpfeifengesicht</a>?" It's an adjective describing "a face that badly needs a punching.")</p><p>"One of the predictions that comes out of those," asserts Carrier, "is if we are specialized for punching, you might expect males to be particularly strong in the muscles that are associated with throwing a punch."</p>
Testing the theory<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzMxMTE2MH0.UXJICMy57UPYUWskhK98alctOrPidJL9yxMkz3HDQrM/img.jpg?width=980" id="98718" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b12287684ac3e740b70392e6433a6b8f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers measured the punching — and spear-throwing — force of 20 men and 19 women. The assumption was that early humans were punchers <em>and</em> spear-throwers.</p><p>Prior to testing, each participant had filled out an activity questionnaire so that "we weren't getting couch potatoes, we were getting people that were very fit and active," says Morris.</p><p>For punching, participants operated a hand crank that required movement similar to throwing a haymaker. The purpose of the hand crank was to spare participants any damage that might be inflicted on their fists by throwing actual punches. Subjects were also measured pulling a line forward over their heads to assess their strength at throwing a spear.</p><p>Even though all of the participants, male and female, were routinely fit, the average power of males was assessed as being 162% greater than females. There were no gender differences in throwing strength recorded. Other untested, though presumably likely, hand-to-hand combat activities come to mind including tackling, clubbing, running, kicking, scratching, and biting.</p><p>Carrier's takeaway: "This is a dramatic example of sexual dimorphism that's consistent with males becoming more specialized for fighting, and males fighting in a particular way, which is throwing punches."</p>
Boys will be boys<p>It, er, strikes us as odd that, even in science fiction — hi-tech weaponry notwithstanding — the hero <em>is</em> going to wind up duking it out with some bad guy, or alien, in the climactic battle. What is it about men punching, anyway? Are they more sexually attractive? The study suggests so:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>The results of this study add to a set of recently identified characters indicating that sexual selection on male aggressive performance has played a role in the evolution of the human musculoskeletal system and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in hominins.</em></p><p>It's tough to contribute to the gene pool after being killed in battle.</p><p>Also, while the authors aren't <em>quite</em> saying that males' historical fighting role is mandated by biology and not by social expectations, neither are they quite <em>not</em> saying it.</p><p>As Carrier explain to <a href="https://attheu.utah.edu/facultystaff/carrier-punch/" target="_blank">theU</a>: "Human nature is also characterized by avoiding violence and finding ways to be cooperative and work together, to have empathy, to care for each other, right? There are two sides to who we are as a species. If our goal is to minimize all forms of violence in the future, then understanding our tendencies and what our nature really is, is going to help."</p>
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The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.
Cool hand rebuke<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMTIyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjY1NTYyOH0.0MCPKN3If94mYCNf3mMNrnTvJXjXN_bKLhgk9203EXk/img.jpg?width=917&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=453" id="1627b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6d76421ba1ea0de4b09956b97e80c384" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A chart showing prison population rates (per 100,000 people) in 2018. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.