Daily Archives: September 17, 2009

What’s in a name?

hello-my-name-is-stickerBy Erica Zaiser

According to the BBC, a recent survey carried out by parenting advice website Bounty.com found that nearly 50% of teachers in the UK thought they could predict the personalities of students before meeting them, just by looking at their names. Results from the poll suggest that teachers believe students with names like Alexander and Elizabeth are more likely to be smart, while students with names like Chelsea or Callum top the list for students predicted to behave poorly.

The idea that people associate names with certain personality traits is nothing new; across cultures many people give their children names that represent desirable qualities like strength, patience, or grace. In general, people with common and more desirable names are seen as more intelligent, healthy, and popular (Young, et al., 1993). Furthermore, name stereotypes are not limited to the classroom and are even found to impact voters’ preference for political candidates, although (thankfully) the relationship between a candidate’s name and receiving votes is no longer significant when would-be voters are presented with more information about the candidate (O’Sullivan et al., 2006).

One obvious reason for the link between personality and name is that perceptions of names act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, when a teacher assumes a student will perform well/poorly, that belief might influence the quality of teaching the student receives. However, the link between personality and names may be more complex than it appears. According to the name letter effect (NLE), just the first letter of your name can influence your preference for places, activities, and people. Furthermore, one study found that students with names starting with letters associated with poor performance (for example the lower mark of C’s and D’s in the American school system), actually performed worse than students with names starting with A or B (higher marks) (Nelson & Simmons, 2007). This, according to the researchers, is because students with C and D names have less aversion to the letters themselves. The theory is that we all have a subconscious preference for anything starting with the same first letter as our name. So, poor Callum may have it extra hard, having to overcome both his teacher’s negative first-impression and his subconscious love for a low-achieving grade.

square-eye Read more:  BBC article-  “Teachers Spot Trouble in a Name”


square-eyeNelson, L., Simons, J. P. (2007). Moniker Maladies: When Names Sabotage Success  Leif D. Nelson. Psychological Science, 18, 12. <br>

square-eyeO’Sullivan, C.S., Chen, A., Mohapatra, S., Sigelman, L., Lewis, L. (1988). Voting in Ignorance: The Politics of Smooth-Sounding Names. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 18, 13.

 

square-eyeYoung, R. K., Kennedy, A. H., Newhouse, A., Browne, P., Theissen, D. (1993).  The Effects of Names on Perception of Intelligence, Popularity, and Competence. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 23, 21.

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A late apology: What’s wrong with being gay?

homosexual-gayThousands of people signed to call for a posthumous government apology to the computer pioneer, Alan Turing, for the unfair treatment he received for being gay fifty-seven years after his death. Alan Turing was most famous for his code-breaking work at Bletchley Park during WWII, helping to create the Bombe that cracked messages enciphered with the German Enigma machines. However, after his coming out of closet as a gay in 1952, Turing was prosecuted for gross indecency. Even worse, he was given experimental chemical castration as a “treatment” and his security privileges were removed, which led to his unemployment. As a result of this “appalling” treatment, Turing killed himself two years later.

Although sexual prejudice remains widespread in the world, attitudes toward lesbians and gay men have become somewhat more accepting in recent years. At the same time, a growing body of sociological and psychological studies deal with the attitudes of heterosexuals toward homosexual behavior. Studies show that one important determinant of attitudes toward lesbians and gay men has been identified in personality variables such as authoritarianism, religiosity, and sex stereotypes. A further important factor is the national or cultural context as shown by the results of international surveys. For example, based on an international survey about attitudes toward homosexuality, the highest tolerance score was found for The Netherlands and the lowest for the Philippines and Chile (Kelley, 2001). Furthermore, psychological research also show that media has significant influence on people’s attitude toward gay and lesbians (Levian et al, 2006).

While more and more people believe homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle, some still violently object. The struggle for homosexual people to obtain visibility and representation in society is perhaps best embodied in the slogan that was popularized by the Queer Nation group in the 1990s, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”.

square-eyePM apology after Turing petition (BBC NEWS)

 

square-eyeLevina, M, Waldo, C.R., & Fitzgerald, L. F. (2006). The Effects of Visual Media on Heterosexuals’ Attitudes Toward Gay Men and Lesbians.