This week's Fresh and Delightful Springtime Guest Post is brought to you by Livia Blackburne, a graduate student in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. Her blog is A Brain Scientist's Take on Creative Writing
Let’s say you’re writing a sizzling hot romance with a tall, handsome hero and a super sexy heroine. You probably think a lot about how their personalities and looks affect their attractiveness. But what about their names?
Dr. Amy Perfors is a Professor at the University of Adelaide. While a student at MIT, she conducted what might just be the most awesome study ever conducted involving the website “Hot or Not.” For those unfamiliar with Hot or Not, it’s a website where people upload pictures of themselves and ask other users to rate their hotness from 1 to 10.
Perfors was interested in whether certain names make people more attractive. She posted pictures of men and women and changed the names to see whether they affected the picture’s rating. She found that for men, names with stressed vowels formed in the front of the mouth (Dave, Craig, Ben, etc…) made their owners more attractive than names with back-of-the-mouth vowels (Paul, Tom, Charles). For women, it was the opposite. Back stressed vowels (Laura, Julie, Robin), resulted in more attractive ratings than front stressed vowels (Melanie, Jamie, Jess).
Why? Perfors has a guess. There’s some psycholinguistic evidence that people perceive front mouth sounds as smaller and back-of-mouth sounds to be larger. There’s also evidence that women are attracted to gentle men over super macho men. The smaller sounding names might be making the men subconsciously seem more sensitive. Likewise, it could be that men are more attracted to women with a bit more spunk.
As a writer, does it surprise you that the sound of your name would affect how your physical attractiveness is perceived? What other factors do you take in mind when choosing names for your characters?
Scientific footnote: These are fun results, but as always, be conservative about interpretation. If your character’s name isn’t optimally voweled, don’t panic. The effect is a small one, about .5 points out of 10. In Perfor’s study, a more attractive person was still rated as more attractive than a plain face, regardless of name. Likewise, in fiction, characterization, dialogue and point of view will trump the names you choose. For more about the study, see Perfor’s in depth explanation here:
Side-note from INTERN: Does this mean the name INTERN would be more attractive on a male intern? Hmmm...a change in profile picture might be required.
Another side-note from INTERN: INTERN realizes that she has been blogging less and been somewhat off the radar over the last little while. This is partly because working at Venny McPulitzer has been beating the living snot out of her. But she is almost finished with Venny McP, and the oracular chickens are predicting major life changes in the near future. Detailed update tomorrow.