Ever met a George who looked more like a Rex? Or a Tatiana who seemed better suited to Emily?
While we tend use individual past experience to formulate a blueprint of what a name should ‘look like’ embodied as a person, there are apparently also facial stereotypes that we all subconsciously apply when guessing someone’s name; and, as a recent study claims, we use that same set of stereotypes to grow to ‘fit’ our own names.
“Research demonstrates that facial appearance affects social perceptions. The current research investigates the reverse possibility: Can social perceptions influence facial appearance?”, write the authors of the study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
In layman’s terms, the study sought to determine whether people developed into the stereotypical version of their name, assimilating the connotative physical features associated with that name.
Researchers discovered that when test subjects were shown a stranger’s face and were provided with a list of five possible names, they were able to correctly select the stranger’s name about 35 percent of the time – above and beyond the random chance of 20 percent.
Taking this fascinating project one step further, the research team created a computerised algorithm that compared thousands faces and names. The results revealed “definite similarities” amongst those faces that shared the same first name.
Research lead author and social psychologist Yonat Zwebner explains this phenomenon by hypothesising that we “adapt” our facial muscles to fit our names, which is directly influenced by stereotypes attached to certain monikers.
“[Take] Joy,” Zwebner says.
“The moment she’s born, her parents and society treat her in a way that befits that name. They say, ‘you really are so joyful, smiling just like your name’. She develops a certain look maybe because she is smiling more because of all the positive feedback she gets when she smiles.”
Other researchers insist that culture and name popularity play a big part in the algorithm and test subjects’ results, but they don’t discredit Dr Zwebner’s theory; think about the permanent scowl you’d likely acquire if gifted one of these titles.