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article imageDo we look like our names? Psychologists think so

By Tim Sandle     Mar 13, 2017 in Science
If you look at a person you’ve not met before how many times do you try to guess their name, or are at least unsurprised when you’re told the person’s name? It seems that humans are very good at predicting the names of people they have not met befor
If you are reading this and your name is, say, Joe or Amy, do you look like a Joe or an Amy? If you do there’s a chance that other people do too, at least according to a new study. The study has found that, accounting for ‘chance’, people are generally good and guessing the name of the person by looking at their face.
The reasons for the face-to-name guessing success could be multiple and they are bound up with socialization and cultural stereotypes. There are also factors like knowing what the most popular names are for each generation and cultural group. So, if someone sees an image of a middle aged man, from say New York, and a young woman from London, there’s a narrowing-down activity that will take place among the most likely names these people have.
The new study has been run by Yonat Zwebner from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The study used several hundred volunteers from France and Israel. The volunteers were shown a photograph and asked to select the given name that corresponded to the face from a list of four or five names.
The outcome of the study was that the volunteers scored an accuracy of up to 40 percent, which is better than the probability of simply randomly selecting a name and hoping to be right (which is at the 20 percent level). However, when the images were shown to a computer that was running software based around a specially designed algorithm, the computer had an accuracy of up to 64 percent in ‘guessing’ the name. This was after the computer had scanned over 94,000 images.
In a research note Zwebner assesses the findings. Here he says: “"We are familiar with such a process from other stereotypes, like ethnicity and gender where sometimes the stereotypical expectations of others affect who we become."
He adds, tellingly “together, these findings suggest that facial appearance represents social expectations of how a person with a particular name should look. In this way, a social tag may influence one's facial appearance.”
The research has been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, under the research heading “We Look Like Our Names: The Manifestation of Name Stereotypes in Facial Appearance.”
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