November 16, 2007 / 4:49 PM / 12 years ago

Name initials may influence grades: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Certain initials may look better than others as monograms but they can also have an impact on how well a person performs in a sport or at school, according to a new study.

Researchers who studied the impact of initials found that baseballs players whose first or last name starts with the letter K, which signifies a strikeout, tended to strike out more often than other players.

And students whose names start with the letters C or D, which denote mediocre marks in some grading systems, did not perform as well as other pupils with different initials.

“Just having the right initial doesn’t spontaneously make you a better baseball player, but it can spontaneously make you a slightly worse baseball player,” said Leif Nelson, of the University of California, San Diego.

Nelson and Joseph Simmons, of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, studied the effect of first or last-name initials in situations where letters corresponded to an undesirable outcome.

They found that people whose initial matched a negative label performed more poorly than others. The findings suggest that the unconscious mind finds one’s own initials appealing even when it compromises success, according to the study that will be published in the journal Psychological Science.

The researchers examined the effect in baseball, in academia and in a lab setting where a reward-based test was performed.

“These are domains where people really, really focus on top performance and still this unconscious desire to match their initial seems to be undermining their performance,” Nelson explained in an interview.

In baseball, players aim to avoid striking out. But after looking at 93 years of Major League baseball data and poring over more than 6,000 player names, the authors found that those whose names began with a K struck out more than others.

The effect was the same in a study of the grade point averages of 15,000 graduate students over a 15-year period.

“Cs and Ds do reliably worse than everyone else,” said Nelson.

“All the students are working very hard to succeed as much as possible, it just happens to be that if you find failure less aversive than someone else, you’ll fail slightly more often,” he added.

The researchers said their findings are in line with the name-letter effect, in which a person’s favorite letter is often one of their initials. The favored initial may influence life outcomes, such the city a person lives in or the choice of occupation.

Nelson said the study demonstrates the power of the unconscious mind in controlling behavior in certain situations.

“Certainly, my wife made sure we didn’t name our daughter with a C or a D after reading the paper,” Nelson said.

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