Does Your First Name Dictate What You Look Like?

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Ever think someone really suits their name? Well, there may actually be some science behind the idea.

Researchers at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem have found that people can correctly match strangers to their names better than just by chance, possibly because people change their appearance to match the stereotype of their name. The findings were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In one experiment, 185 participants in Israel and France were asked to select a name from four possible options for 25 photographs of people. About 30 percent of the time they got the correct name, better than a random guess at just 25 percent. The experiment was repeated with 115 participants, who were correct 40 percent of the time.

The effect was culture-specific, with French participants identifying French names and faces better, while Israeli participants were better with Hebrew names. The most easily identifiable names were Veronique, which was correctly attributed to a person 80 percent of the time by French participants. Israeli participants were able to identify people called Tom more than 52 percent of the time.

Can you guess the correct name? The answer is at the end of the article. Zwebner et al

In another experiment, a computer was trained with a learning algorithm to study 94,000 images and match names to faces. It was 54 to 64 percent accurate, compared to a random chance accuracy of 50 percent.

The researchers suggest that the appearance of people can change over time to match a given name, which may explain the findings. Things like hairstyle and facial hair might be altered to fit the stereotype of a name, which was backed up by the results being repeated when participants could only see the hairstyle of a person. They also suggest the “Dorian Gray effect”, where internal factors like personality can influence facial appearance, might also be at play.

"Our research demonstrates that indeed people do look like their name," Dr Ruth Mayo, one of the study’s co-authors, said in a statement. “Furthermore, we suggest this happens because of a process of self-fulfilling prophecy, as we become what other people expect us to become.”

“Prior research has shown there are cultural stereotypes attached to names, including how someone should look,” added PhD candidate and lead author Yonat Zwebner. “For instance, people are more likely to imagine a person named Bob to have a rounder face than a person named Tim. We believe these stereotypes can, over time, affect people's facial appearance."

In their paper, the researchers suggest this may be linked to the bouba-kiki effect, where people associate rounder sounding objects with the word “bouba”, whereas thinner and spikier objects are linked to “kiki”.

Answer: Dan, which was correctly chosen 38 percent of the time in the study.

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