Implicit egotism

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Implicit egotism is the hypothesis that humans have an unconscious preference for things they associate with themselves. In their 2002 paper, researchers Pelham, Mirenberg, and Jones argue that people have a basic desire to feel good about themselves and behave according to that desire. These automatic positive associations would influence feelings about almost anything associated with the self. Given the mere ownership effect, which states that people like things more if they own them, and the name-letter effect, which states that people like the letters of their name more than other letters,[1] the researchers theorised that people would develop an affection for objects and concepts that are chronically associated with the self, such as their name. They called this unconscious power implicit egotism.[2] Researcher Uri Simonsohn suggested that implicit egotism only applies to cases where people are nearly indifferent between options, and therefore it would not apply to major decisions such as career choices. Low-stakes decisions such as choosing a charity would show an effect.[3] Researcher Raymond Smeets theorised that if implicit egotism stems from a positive evaluation of the self, then people with low self-esteem would not gravitate towards choices associated with the self, but possibly away from them. A lab experiment confirmed this.[4] Implicit egotism is used by some researchers as an explanation for possible effects such as nominative determinism, which is the hypothesis that people tend to gravitate towards areas of work that fit their name (e.g. Igor Judge became a judge because of his name).[2] Uri Simonsohn published a paper in 2011 in which he criticized Pelham et al. for not considering confounding factors in their analyses of field data.[5] In response to Simonsohn's critical analyses of their earlier methods, Pelham and Carvallo published a new study in 2015, describing how they now controlled for gender, ethnicity, and education confounds. In one study they looked at both U.S. and English census data and reported that men disproportionately worked in eleven occupations whose titles matched their surnames, namely, baker, barber, butcher, butler, carpenter, farmer, foreman, mason, miner, painter, and porter.[6] This same paper also showed that people are disproportionately likely to marry others who share either their birthday numbers or their birth months. Pelham and Carvallo suggest that "natural experiments" such as this one eliminate many of the confounds that were potentially applicable to past studies of implicit egotism. Presumably, via processes such as mere exposure and classical conditioning, people develop strong preferences for things that resemble the self.



  • Nuttin, Jozef M. (1985). "Narcissism beyond Gestalt and awareness:The name-letter effect". European Journal of Social Psychology. 15 (3): 353–361. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2420150309.
  • Pelham, B; Mirenberg, Matthew C; Jones, John T (2002). "Why Susie sells seashells by the seashore:Implicit egotism and major life decisions". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 82 (4): 469–487. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.82.4.469. PMID 11999918.
  • Pelham, Brett; Carvallo, Mauricio (2015). "When Tex and Tess Carpenter Build Houses in Texas:Moderators of Implicit Egotism". Self and Identity. 4 (6): 692–723. doi:10.1080/15298868.2015.1070745.
  • Simonsohn, Uri (2011). "Spurious? Name similarity effects (implicit egotism) in marriage, job, and moving decisions". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 101 (1): 1–24. doi:10.1037/a0021990. PMID 21299311.
  • Smeets, Raymond (2009). On the Preference for Self-related Entities:The Role of Positive Self-associations in Implicit Egotism Effects. Nijmegen, the Netherlands: UB Nijmegen. ISBN 978-90-90-24290-3.