What’s in a name?
Shakespeare famously asked this in his classic tale of Romeo and Juliet. Well, it turns out that there’s actually a lot. New research suggests that a person’s first name changes how other people judge their personality, age, and competency.
Researchers asked 500 college students to rate the 400 most popular names from 1950 to 2009 based on how old, warm, and competent they believed the person to be.
The survey revealed that gender stereotypes still affect a person’s impression of a name. In general, female names were associated with warmth but not with competence. On the other hand, male names were perceived as highly competent but not very warm. Certain names, like Dolores or Donald, were perceived to be much older than other names, such as Danielle or Devon. Check out some of the names below.
People perceived as highly competent and warm:
Names associated with warmth but low competence:
Those who are highly competent but not very warm:
People perceived with low competence and low warmth:
A more significant finding of the study shows that, since name bias exists, several classic psychology experiments could be wrong. Psychology studies often used fictional characters in hypothetical situations—and scientists would often assign random names to these characters they created for the study. It could be that the names they gave their fictional characters have affected the results of their experiment.
“Names have a variety of connotations that could lead to unwanted variance between conditions of an experiment and in other ways have implications for the results of a study,” the researchers wrote.
For example, a 1993 study found that identical essays written by “John” and “Joan” received very different grades, with Joan receiving a worse grade than John. At that time, the scientists thought it was a result of sexism. In light of this new study, however, it could be that Joan received lower grades because people were biased against her seemingly older age rather than her gender.
The researchers are now suggesting that previous studies need to be repeated with names that have a somewhat comparable rating so that underlying bias will not affect the results.
Entitled “Name Norms: A Guide to Casting Your Next Experiment“, the study was conducted by researchers from Syracuse University and was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
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