Names may shape facial appearance: study

Names may shape facial appearance: study
People can correctly match names of strangers to their faces with surprising accuracy, according to a new study which suggests that a social tag may influence one's appearance.

Researchers conducted a series of experiments involving hundreds of participants in Israel and France.

In each experiment, participants were shown a photograph and asked to select the given name that corresponded to the face from a list of four or five names.

Participants were significantly better (25 to 40 per cent accurate) at matching the name to the face than random chance (20 or 25 per cent accurate depending on the experiment) even when ethnicity, age and other socioeconomic variables were controlled for.

The researchers from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem theorise the effect may be due to cultural stereotypes associated with names as they found the effect to be culture-specific.

In one experimentconducted with students in both France and Israel, participants were given a mix of French and Israeli faces and names.

The French students were better than random chance at matching only French names and faces and Israeli students were better at matching only Hebrew names and Israeli faces.

In another experiment, researchers trained a computer, using a learning algorithm, to match names to faces. In this experiment, which included over 94,000 facial images, the computer was also significantly more likely (54 to 64 per cent accuracy) to be successful than random chance (50 per cent accuracy).

This manifestation of the name in a face might be due to people subconsciously altering their appearance to conform to cultural norms and cues associated with their names, according to Yonat Zwebner, a PhD candidate at Hebrew University.

"We are familiar with such a process from other stereotypes, like ethnicity and gender where sometimes the stereotypical expectations of others affect who we become," said Zwebner.

"Prior research has shown there are cultural stereotypes attached to names, including how someone should look. For instance, people are more likely to imagine a person named Bob to have a rounder face than a person named Tim," he said.
"We believe these stereotypes can, over time, affect people's facial appearance," researchers said.

"The findings suggest that facial appearance represents social expectations of how a person with a particular name should look. In this way, a social tag may influence one's facial appearance," said Ruth Mayo, from The Hebrew University.

"We are subject to social structuring from the minute we are born, not only by gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, but by the simple choice others make in giving us our name," said Mayo.

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
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