The name–letter effect refers to a person's tendency to favor the letters in their name over the other letters of the alphabet and it is one of the widest used measures of implicit self-esteem. Discovered by Jozef Nuttin, the name–letter effect has been the subject of much research over the last few decades, shedding light on subjects such as implicit egotism, academic and financial success, and even the idea that people gravitate to cities that resemble their names.
The name–letter effect differs from "implicit egotism", the latter being attributed to the way people allegedly gravitate towards places, people and situations that reflect themselves, including perhaps similarities with their own name.
The name–letter effect was first described using that term by Belgian researcher Jozef Nuttin in 1985. Previous work refers to similar phenomena, including a study in 1962 by Alluisi and Adams that found a strong correlation between estimations of frequency of letter occurrence in English and visual pleasantness of that letter. In addition, the 1968 study by Robert Zajonc demonstrated that repeated exposure to a stimulus, such as a letter, is a sufficient condition to enhance its attractiveness. Nuttin, along with various colleagues from the European Association of Experimental Social Psychology, observed the name–letter effect in 15 European countries and at least 3 non-European countries. The results from this experiment showed that even across languages, people were significantly more likely to choose their name letters above the other letters in their respective alphabets.
Nuttin's original study involved Flemish elementary and university students. Pairs or triads of capital letters were presented to these students, with one of the letters being one of that participant's initials. Nuttin found that the average proportion of own-name letter preferred was significantly higher than the random-letter partner(s). This was true of both first-name letters and family-name letters across 16 conditions. A subsequent study performed by Nuttin in 1987 studied the name–letter effect across 12 languages and included different alphabets. Participants were shown 10 random orders of capital letters and were told to choose the top 6 favorites. Nuttin also manipulated other factors in the experiment, such as the letters appearing in pairs or triads, in an attempt to increase the validity of the study. This study also concluded that letters found in one's own name are 50% more likely to be chosen for the top 6, with the strongest correlation to the first letters of the first and family names (initials). Subsequent work by Stefan Steiger and Etienne LaBel also found that the name–letter effect is largest for the letters that constitute one's initials.
Most scientists agree that the name–letter effect is caused by links with implicit self-esteem, or the implicit positive feelings a person has for themselves. It is thought that when a person recognizes the letters in their name that they experience positive feelings caused by implicit self-esteem. These positive feelings reinforce the behavior of selecting things that correspond with the letters in a person's own name, producing the name-letter effect.
Nuttin, however, attributes the name–letter effect to the idea of "mere ownership". The idea is that a person feels ownership of their names and initials, causing an enhancement of the attractiveness of the owned object. When a person feels that they "own" the letters of their name, the idea of mere ownership causes the person to find these letters more attractive, causing the name letter effect.
Criticisms of this phenomenon include Karasawa and Kitayama who dispute this, stating that throughout our daily lives, we use other letters just as frequently as we use our name letters.
A number of studies have been done to test the effects that the name–letter effect has on day to day life. Some of these studies have shown that the name–letter effect potentially changes the way that we think, live, and work.
Leif D. Nelson and Joseph P. Simmons performed a study that concerned the name–letter effect and its effects on academic success. Their study strove to test whether the name–letter effect had any effect on grade-point average. It was shown that students with names that started with the letter C or D were more likely to have lower grade-point averages, thought to be due to the students being less averse to the lower grades because the signifying letters of those grades corresponded with their initials. However, students with initials corresponding to higher grade values did not show any improvement over students whose names did not correspond with any grade.
Additionally, a study by Evan Polman, Monique M.H. Pollmann, and T. Andrew Poehlman went on to suggest that sharing initials with members in a group can increase the quality of group work. Studying over 260 undergraduate students that were organized into groups, they found that groups sharing initials performed better than groups that did not. Beyond this, groups that had a higher proportion of shared initials exceeded groups with a lower proportion of shared initials.
Frederik Anseel and Wouter Duyek performed a study that entailed obtaining a database containing information about the names of people and the businesses in which they are employed. Using this information they found that people are more likely to work at companies that share the same letters of their name, rather than companies that do not. In a separate study researchers also found that owners of hardware stores were more likely to have the initial "H" rather than "R", while owners of roofing companies were more likely to have the initial "R" rather than "H".
Birthdays and numbers
The birthday–number effect is the phenomenon that people prefer their birthday numbers, particularly the day and the month of birth, over non-birthday numbers. Jones, Pelham, Mirenberg and Hetts performed a study assessing both name–letter preferences as well as birthday-number preferences. The researchers proposed that both the name–letter effect and the birthday–number effect reflect people's implicit self-esteem. The study showed significant results relating to participants showing a preference to numbers relating to their birth month or birth day. The researchers state that people's elevated liking for their name letters and birthday numbers are best conceptualized as examples of implicit egotism or unconscious self-regulation. An study by Japanese researchers tested preferences for both name–letters and birthday numbers. After testing undergraduate students, they found a significantly enhanced liking for birthday numbers. Overall, participants showed a greater liking of their birth date over their birth month. In addition, they found that women showed a higher correlation for preference of birthday numbers. They reported similar reasoning for this phenomenon as the previous study, stating that people strive to boost their self-esteem.
Besides the name–letter effect measuring implicit self-esteem, gender-role orientation may also play a part in name–letter effect. Gender-role orientation (GRO) refers to the extent to which an individual adopts and displays traits, attitudes, and behaviors normatively identified as male-typical or female-typical. GRO has been defined as "an underlying, and not necessarily conscious, perception of the maleness or femaleness of the self". It can be measured by the gender initial-preference task (gender-IPT), which requires participants to rate letters for their gender typicality. Men have been shown to rate their initial letters as more male-typical, whereas women rate their initials as more female-typical. Also, the gender-IPT showed satisfying convergent validity with other direct and indirect (gender implicit-association test) measures of gender-role orientation, as well as predictive validity with sensation seeking and gender-typical everyday-life behaviors. Women can be expected to develop a greater sensitivity to their intuitive self-evaluations. Their implicit and explicit self-esteem are likely to go hand in hand. Two studies were performed that shows correlation between name–letter preferences and explicit self-esteem stronger for women than men. These studies were performed in Singapore and Amsterdam.
Implicit egotism is the inability to see in other peoples point of view (from their perspective). Implicit egotism is also the general idea of people's positive associations about themselves spill over into their evaluations of objects associated with self. It represents a form of unconscious self-enhancement. Implicit egotism and name–letter effect are related because both are inhibited by their own personal aspect. Implicit egotism/NLE may affect a perons likability in certain things such as hair products or future occupation. For example, in name–letter effect, people evaluate the letters in their own name more favorable than letters that aren't included in her name. For implicit egotism, peoples positive associations about themselves spill over into their evaluation of the object/situation. This effect has been documented in at least 14 countries. There were many studies performed to test these theories.One such study performed by Dyjas, Grashman, Wetzels, Wagenmakers and Maas found examples of this relating to things people buy, places they live and names they may give their children. One might chose to move to St. Louis because their name is Louis, or buy a Philips brand television because their name is Philip. There is something called egocentric empathy gap that is the self-centered gap between one person and others. According to a study, participants thought the other persons valuation of a commodity was closer to their own. Owners overestimated the buyers valuation and buyers underestimated the owners valuation.
There are many cross-cultural studies that supports the name–letter effect. One example would be the studies done in Singapore and Amsterdam that tests the gender-role orientation effect in the name–letter effect. It is important to understand the effects it has in many cultures because there may be some cultural/environmental effects that may affect the name–letter effect. There were also many European studies that have tested the name–letter effect. An example would be the study done that tested whether there was a name–letter effect for letters belonging to own first and/or family name. This was tested among 12 different European languages, including Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Norwegian, and Polish. The experiment supported the name–letter effect. A person will like something more if the letters of their own or family name are included in it.
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