Simple names earn trust - research

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 06/03/2014

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It seems familiarity breeds content.

New research shows that having a name that is easy to pronounce means strangers are more likely to trust you.

"To the Fred Flintstone parts of our brains, that feeling of familiarity signals something we can trust, but information that's difficult to process signals danger," Victoria University of Wellington psychologist and study leader Dr Eryn Newman said.

Using newspaper articles and websites from around the world, researchers came up with fake name pairs - one easy, one hard - then gauged responses to them.

In one experiment, the false claim that macadamia nuts were in "the same evolutionary family as peaches" was found to hold more credence when uttered by "Andrian Babeshko" than when his less-pronounceable countryman "Czeslaw Ratynska" said it.

In another, participants imagined they were off-colour tourists looking for a safe tour guide who would not make them feel worse. They were also asked to decide how dangerous a list of strangers was, based only on their names.

In every case, researchers found simple names were perceived as being more familiar, less risky and less dangerous.

The findings could have far-reaching implications, covering everything from how voters judge candidates with unfamiliar names, how juries assess the reliability of witnesses, and how employers assess jobseekers, to how people on dating websites react to each other's names.

Jeff Hunkin, of dating website FindSomeone, said personal details were part of the online "equation of love" and people naturally used "gut feel" in deciding on potential partners.

"We're always slightly wary of the unknown, of things we're not familiar with - it's no surprise then that when you're considering getting intimate with another person, you use all of the information you have on hand to make a call - including their name.

"A name might conjure up associations with other people we know with that name, that we've either encountered in real life or in popular culture."

Last year the website revealed its "hottest" men's and women's names were Rod and Becky, while the most common were John and Sarah, and the most successful Cameron and Mel.

The effect was largely confined to the first impressions of unseen strangers, Dr Newman said. So someone such as former governor-general Sir Anand Satyanand might suffer initially, but any negative perception would be wiped away once people discovered he was the Queen's representative.

Last year lawyer Karunanidhi Muthu ran for the Wellington mayoralty, and finished last behind Celia Wade-Brown and others with much simpler-to-say names.

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He conceded yesterday there might be a "grain of truth" to the research, but said he came last not because of his name but because his campaign was mounted late, so voters were less familiar with him.

- The Dominion Post

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