Observations

When Harry Met Hallie

Would a rose, by any other name, smell as sweet? It may depend whether your name is Roberta or Louise.

Twenty years ago, Belgian psychologist J. M. Nuttin discovered that people especially like the letters that appear in their own names but are generally unaware of the reason — a phenomenon he called the “name-letter effect.” In the last few years, a research team led by Brett W. Pelham, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, has investigated the role that this and other self-associations (preferences for the numbers in one’s birth date, for example) play in people’s major life decisions.

“Our primary hypothesis was simple,” the authors wrote in the article, “Implicit Egotism,” in the April 2005 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science. “If Dennis adores the letter D, then it might not be too far-fetched to expect Dennis to gravitate toward cities such as Denver, careers such as Dentistry, and romantic partners such as Denise.”

In the article, Pelham and his colleagues Mauricio Carvallo, SUNY Buffalo, and John T. Jones, US Military Academy, West Point, summarized an extensive series of studies supporting the hypothesis that people unconsciously cleave to locales, careers, and romantic partners that somehow resemble the self.

One archival study showed that people disproportionately inhabit cities whose names feature the numbers in their own birth date; “Just as people born on February 2 (02-02) disproportionately inhabit cities with names such as Two Harbors, people born on May 5 (05-05) disproportionately inhabit cities with names such as Five Points.” Other studies showed that self-associations like name letters guide people’s preference for streets and states of residence. Women named Louise, for example, are disproportionately likely to live in Louisiana, even if they weren’t born there. And statewide archival records show that implicit egotism is at work in our love lives: “People are disproportionately likely to marry others who happen to share their first or last initial.”

Laboratory studies appear to confirm the role of implicit egotism in interpersonal attraction. In one experiment, male and female participants evaluated a young woman in a photograph wearing a jersey with either the number 16 or the number 24 on it. Prior to the evaluation, participants had engaged in a computerized task during which their name had been subliminally paired with one of these two numbers. “Participants liked the woman more … when her jersey number had been subliminally paired with their own names,” the author’s wrote.

“I think we were most surprised at how well this phenomenon replicated outside the lab and how easy it was to capture the phenomenon in the lab,” Pelham said. “I began the studies with low aspirations, but I was always impressed with how well the effect replicated.”

Now, Pelham’s team is turning attention to more mundane life choices. The researchers have recently found name-letter effects at work in people’s preferences for certain products like candies and teas, for example. In an age of direct marketing, this is an area for which implicit-egotism research may have its most direct potential application: “Jeep dealers,” Pelham said, “should send more targeted ads to people named Jason and Jennifer than to people named Eric or Mauricio.”

Pelham freely admits that implicit egotism has figured in his own life choices. “I tried to get into an apartment on Pelham Street when I lived in LA, many years before we did this work, but the rent was too high.”

Read the article online at www.psychologicalscience.org/journals.

Age of Innocence?

BEMIDJI, Minnesota — Television shows designated as safe for children ages four to six may actually cause them to be more violent later in life, according to Ed Donnerstein, dean of the college of social and behavioral sciences at the University of Arizona.

Donnerstein relayed these findings in his keynote address, “Mass Media and Violence: Research, Context, and Policy Implications,” during the Minnesota Undergraduate Psychology Conference, hosted by Bemidji State University, on April 23, 2005.

Donnerstein’s talk was sponsored by APS as part of the Society’s program of bringing nationally-known researchers to regional audiences.

In a three-year study of over 30 cable and broadcast television channels, 50 percent of children’s shows included at least one of Donnerstein’s five high-risk portrayals: an attractive perpetrator, justified violence, unpunished violence, violence that shows no pain or harm, and violence that seems realistic to the viewer.

According to Donnerstein, children connect attractiveness with goodness and are more likely to hang onto the words and actions of a striking perpetrator. Many children’s shows depict violence as comical or as necessary retaliation, which may cause children to misinterpret violence as humorous and fulfilling. In addition, if a realistic perpetrator goes unpunished, children might regard this scenario as a reflection of real-life consequences.

About 10 percent of the shows with one of the high-risk portrayals also had child perpetrators, which children are more likely to mimic.

Because these shows are designed for children, parents, ratings and advisories officials, and television producers deem them acceptable for all viewers and are shown any hour of the day, especially during hours when children are more likely to be watching.

Despite these ominous results, another study might support an antidotal effect — that viewers of harsh consequences may act with more caution. In the study, three courtroom trials, in which young perpetrators were punished for their actions, were shown to a group of middle school-aged children. After the students watched these videos, their teachers noted a reduction in violence on playgrounds and arguments in the classroom.

The MUPC, the longest running undergraduate psychology conference in the nation, featured 84 presentations by students from 19 colleges and universities across the state of Minnesota and the region.

Alicia Sadler

SIOP Presents

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology presented its top honors recently at its annual conference in Los Angeles, California.

Nearly 3,000 people attended the three-day meeting, which was presided over by SIOP President Fritz Drasgow, Purdue University.

David Nadler, chairman and CEO of Mercer Delta Consulting LLC and Frank Erwin of ePredix, Inc. received the Distinguished Professional Contributions Award.

Recipients of the Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award were Angelo S. DeNisi of Texas A&M University and Robert Folger of Central Florida University.

Marcus Dickson of Wayne State University was presented the Distinguished Teaching Contributions Award and the Distinguished Service Contributions Award went to Richard Jeanneret of Jeanneret&Associates.

Other recipients included Jason Colquitt, University of Florida, who received the Distinguished Early Careers Award and Lisa Nishii, Cornell University, who was named the winner of the S. Rains Wallace Dissertation Research Award.

Also, the William A. Owens Scholarly Achievement Award, given for the best article published in I/O psychology in 2003, went to a quartet of researchers. Phillip Podsakoff, Scott McKenzie, and Jeong-Yeon Lee, all from Indiana University, and Nathan Podsakoff, University of Florida were honored for their article, “Common Method Biases in Behavioral Research: A Critical Review of the Literature and Recommended Remedies,” which appeared in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

The Robert J. Wherry Award for the best Paper at the IO/OB Conference, which is an annual gathering of I/O psychology graduate students, was awarded to John Skinner and Scott Morris, doctoral students at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Stacey Turner, Sarah Singletary and Eden King, all from Rice University, and Jenessa Shapiro, Arizona State University, were presented the John C. Flanagan Award for Outstanding Student Contribution to the SIOP Conference.

Milner, Tulving Win Gairdner Awards

Two APS William James Fellows, Brenda Milner, McGill University, and Endel Tulving, Rotman Research Institute and University of Toronto, recently were named winners of the 2005 Gairdner International Awards, one of the most prestigious awards in all of science.

Milner was recognized for “pioneering research in the understanding of human memory, and providing the necessary framework within which findings in neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and neuropharmacology can be integrated.”

Tulving was recognized for “pioneering research in the understanding of human memory, and providing the necessary framework within which findings in neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and neuropharmacology can be integrated.”

Of the 274 Gairdner winners, 64 have gone on to win the Nobel Prize. The award recognizes outstanding contributions by medical scientists worldwide whose work will significantly improve the quality of life.

New AAAS Fellows

Three APS Past Presidents and two Fellow and Charter Members were among 213 people recently elected Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

John Darley, Princeton University, Susan T. Fiske, Princeton University, and Henry L. Roediger, III, Washington University in St. Louis served consecutive terms as APS President, from 2001 to 2004. Susan Goldin-Meadow, University of Chicago, was also elected, and Brenda Milner, McGill University, was named a Foreign Honorary Member.

Observer Vol.18, No.6 June, 2005

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