The name–letter effect is one of the widest used measures of implicit self-esteem. It represents the idea that an individual prefers the letters belonging to their own name and will select these above other letters in choice tasks. The task procedure is generally called initial-preference task (IPT).
This effect has been found in a vast range of studies. In one such scenario, participants were given a list of letters, one of which contained letters from their own name and the other of which contained other letters, and asked them to circle the preferred letter. This study found that, even when accounting for all other variables, letters belonging to the participants' own names were preferred.
In order to reduce unwanted explicit-error variance in the measurement of implicit self-esteem with the initial-preference task, the so-called symbol administration should be used. Compared to the standard administration, the symbol administration not only presents participants with a list of letters, but every second letter is followed by an ASCII code symbol (e.g. ☺, ☼, ♀, ¾, €). Research has shown that this modification drastically reduces the number of individuals recognizing their initials during the task procedure. The symbol method has been successfully applied in the measurement of implicit self-esteem and of implicit gender-role orientation.
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 effect is argued by some researchers to arise from "implicit egotism": Because people tend to hold a positive self-regard, they tend to like what is associated with themselves. The fact that the name–letter effect correlates only weakly with questionnaire measures of self-esteem is consistent with the view that these measures assess different components of self-esteem and predict different behaviors.
The effect is hypothesized to result not just from writing one's own name repeatedly, because the effect is observed for people who write their names in Cyrillic characters: When selecting words written in the Latin alphabet, these people prefer words containing letters superficially similar to those in their own names even when letters having those shapes represent different sounds in their own alphabet (e.g., P (Cyrillic equivalent of Latin R), C (in Latin, S), and X (in Latin, "Kh")).
Birthdays and numbers
The birthday–number effect is a similar bias hypothesized for 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.
Besides the name–letter effect measuring implicit self-esteem there also exists a name–letter effect for measuring gender-role orientation. 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.
Its implications for major life decisions are controversial. Although some studies have suggested that people with a preference for the letters of their name also prefer jobs, cities, and relationship partners with similar names, others have pointed out that these effects are merely statistical artifacts.
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- McCullough. Baseball players with the initial "K" do not strike out more often. - Journal of Applied Statistics, 2010
- Yamaguchi. Baseball managers, no need to worry about players' initials: Comment on Nelson and Simmons. - International Journal of Sport Psychology 2010
- Mixing Memory (blog): The Name-Letter Effect, Or Why Chris is a Cognitive Psychologist (scienceblogs.com)