If you were shown a photograph of a face and asked to match it with a name out of four options, what are the chances you’d guess correct? Turns out that 30% to 40% of the time you would guess correctly. In a study that spanned several years, the results are striking: we do look like our names.
The lead author of the study, Yonat Zwebner, did her MBA at the IDC where she met Jacob Goldenberg, professor of marketing at the Arison School of Business. Later, Jacob happened to be working at the Hebrew University where Yonat was doing her Phd, and they decided to take on the “names” project together as part of her dissertation. Little did they know what their joint curiosity would lead to.
The first phase of the study involved human subjects who were presented with a photograph of a face and asked to match it with a name out of four or five options. Despite their own disbelief, the team of five researchers were consistently met with astounding results – the chances that people are able to successfully match a name to a face were far beyond chance. The results were replicated in Israel and in France, and later used machine learning technology to confirm the findings. A “trained” computer was fed nearly a thousand faces and the computer identified the correct name to the face 54% to 64% of the time! There is one important contributor to the name-matching effect: the name has to hold a clear stereotype within the given culture of the subject who is perceiving it. The effect disappears for cultures that are different than that of the subject. This research points to the power of social tags – we are programmed for our features and our “look” to accentuate the social group we belong to, so that we can more easily be identified by that group, for protection or other evolutionary needs.
So exactly how many of which attributes need to combine to distinguish a “Lucy” from a none “Lucy”? There is no one clear answer, but there is strong evidence that hair plays an important role in how we judge people and which social tag we give them.
Does this mean that our future is forever sealed by the name we were given, which we had no control over? Thankfully, for most of us, changing a name is only as hard as the mounds of paper work involved with it, and some opt for being called by a more attractive nickname. How we deal with the social tags that in some cases may be spurred by seemingly arbitrary cues like someone’s name, leave room for a lot of future exploration. For example, are children able to match faces to names, if so, at what point in our development do we become more attuned to these social tags? Does the effect exist for twins? Pop culture certainly governs a lot of social perception – the name “Hilary” no longer has the same stereotype it did the years before Clinton was in office. Not surprisingly, marketing tactics are often grounded in this simple principle – if you look like a Rick, and Ricks look like they drive a Toyota, chances are, you’re the right target for this product.
Try to determine the correct given name of the person in the picture: