Looks like Bob: Names con­jure images

The Washington Times Weekly - - Page Two - By Jen­nifer Harper

He looks like a Bob, not a Frank. And he’s cer­tainly no Bill. Uh-oh. Name dis­crim­i­na­tion may be just around the cor­ner. Bob, Bill et al con­jure up un­de­ni­able images, ac­cord­ing to re­search re­leased by Mi­ami Univer­sity that con­fir ms we stereo­type cer­tain names with cer­tain faces.

Good old Bob, for ex­am­ple. Ut­ter the name “Bob,” and folks in­vari­ably imag­ine a man with a round, pos­si­bly large face.

“It’s the first time this has ever been shown quan­ti­ta­tively, be­yond anec­do­tal ev­i­dence. Ev­ery one has had the ex­pe­ri­ence of think­ing, ‘Hmm. Now, he just doesn’t look like a Bob.’ “ said lead re­searcher Robin Thomas, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at the Ohio school.

“So if you want to be thought of as lean and an­gu­lar, don’t be called ‘Bob,’ “ she added.

Ms. Thomas tested the Bob the­ory by ask­ing groups of stu­dents to match male names with men’s faces cre­ated with pho­tos and fa­cial-re­con­struc­tion soft­ware used by po­lice in eye­wit­ness iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. In a Bob vs. Tim matchup, 100 per­cent of the study par­tic­i­pants matched a lean-bearded face with Tim and a chubby face with Bob.

In­deed, the most pre­dictable name-face matches were Bob — along with Bill, Brian and Ja­son.

“Th­ese pro­to­type faces that seem to ex­ist for dif­fer­ent names are not just idly oc­cu­py­ing space in our mind, but have im­pli­ca­tions for how eas­ily one learns the names of in­di­vid­u­als,” Ms. Thomas said.

The find­ings, re­leased April 16, should in­ter­est po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tants, who of­ten go to ex­cru­ci­at­ing length to con­trol a can­di­dates’ im­age and voter ap­peal. In re­cent years, just chang­ing hair­styles is enough to cause a com­mo­tion in the press.

Cathy Allen, a Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant with the Con­nec­tions Group in Seat­tle, agrees that per­sonal names can be a weighty mat­ter on the cam­paign trail.

She coun­sels fe­male can­di­dates with names that do dou­ble time in the male realm — such as Chris and Bob­bie — to in­clude their mid­dle name on bal­lots and yard signs.

“I have also had can­di­dates named Belcher, Bum­mer, and Laden — which was slurred into bin Laden — and know all too well what the pub­lic sees when they see th­ese names,” she said May 17.

Par­ents-to-be may also be in­ter­ested in face-name con­nec­tion. The choice of baby names has be­come a science, mea­sur­ing the greater mean­ing of first name choice and if its rhythm en­hances or de­tracts from the fam­ily sur­name.

Mom and Dad may now be forced to divine the vis­ual im­pli­ca­tions of “Emily” and “Ja­cob,” the most pop­u­lar names in the na­tion, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau.

“Peo­ple choose names for their ba­bies not know­ing how they will look later in life, but it seems so­ci­ety has an idea of what peo­ple’s names might be merely by look­ing at them,” Ms. Thomas said.

Could Bob dis­crim­i­na­tion be just around the cor­ner? The re­searchers plan fu­ture stud­ies to de­ter­mine whether there are neg­a­tive con­se­quences to the “name-face pro­to­type.”

They also won­der whether the sound of a name plays a role in it all.

“There may be some in­ter­ac­tion,” Ms. Thomas said. “Bob, for ex­am­ple, is sim­ply a round­sound­ing name.”

The re­search will be pub­lished in Psy­cho­nomic Bul­letin & Re­view, an aca­demic jour­nal.

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