A new study finds that we have an inherent preference for people whose names and faces are a “match” based on the so-called bouba/kiki effect. This effect refers to people’s tendency to associate rounded objects with names that require rounding of the mouth to pronounce. For example, people tend to associate round names such as “Bob” and “Lou” with round-faced individuals.
In a series of studies, researchers David Barton and Jamin Halberstadt of the University of Otago in New Zealand tested whether people’s names are judged more suitable when they are congruent in shape with the people they denote. They also investigated whether people whose names match their faces are judged more positively than people with incongruent names.
Their findings are published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.
In the first experiment, participants ranked which of six suggested names went best with twenty overly exaggerated round or angular male caricatured faces. The participants consistently matched nine of the ten round faces with so-called round names (George, Lou), and eight of the ten angular faces with so-called and angular names (Pete, Kirk).
In another experiment, using unmanipulated photographs of real male faces, participants assigned shape-congruent names to 14 out of 16 round faces, and 15 out of 16 angular faces.
Further studies revealed that participants liked a person more when his name matched his face, but their feelings toward a person diminished if his name and face did not match.
Finally, Barton and Halberstadt turned to politics to further test these findings. The researchers computed “matching scores” for 158 candidates for the United States Senate, based on independent ratings of the roundness of each candidate’s face and name.
Indeed, they found that candidates whose faces matched their names had an advantage. In fact, candidates earned on average 10 more percentage points in their elections when their names fit their faces very well, versus very poorly.
“Those with congruent names earned a greater proportion of votes than those with incongruent names,” said Barton. “The fact that candidates with extremely well-fitting names won their seats by a larger margin — 10 points — than is obtained in most American presidential races suggests the provocative idea that the relation between perceptual and bodily experience could be a potent source of bias in some circumstances.”
Halberstadt added that “Overall, our results tell a consistent story. People’s names, like shape names, are not entirely arbitrary labels. Face shapes produce expectations about the names that should denote them, and violations of those expectations carry affective implications, which in turn feed into more complex social judgments, including voting decisions.”