Deadlier than the male?
Which scares you more: Hurricane Victor or Victoria? People are slightly less likely to flee an oncoming storm with a feminine name than a masculine one, a new study finds.
But here is Victoria’s secret: Hurricanes with feminine names turn out to be deadlier in the U.S. than their more machosounding counterparts, probably because their monikers make people underestimate their danger, researchers concluded. And the public health implications are real, since more people died during storms with more feminine names.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In six experiments, more than 1,000 test subjects told behavioral scientists at the University of Illinois at Champaign that they were slightly more likely to evacuate from an oncoming storm named Christopher than Christina, Victor than Victoria, and Alexander than Alexandra. They found female names less frightening.
“People are looking for meaning in any information that they receive,” said study co-author Sharon Shavitt, a professor of marketing. “The name of the storm is providing people with irrelevant information that they actually use.”
Hurricane and disaster science experts, such as MIT’s Kerry Emanuel, were skeptical at first. But after more consideration, some found merit in the work, noting that it is more about psychology than physical science. Emanuel joked that perhaps meteorologists should start using scarier-sounding names, such as Jack-the-Ripper or King Kong.
But Susan Cutter, of the University of South Carolina’s Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute, called the results coincidental.
So who scares you more? Names on tap from the National Weather Service for this Atlantic hurricane season, which started June 1, include the not-toointimidating Arthur, Bertha, Dolly, Fay, Hanna, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Nana and Wilfred.
Did a less-threatening name make residents of Coney Island take Hurricane Sandy less seriously in 2012?