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Name game increases sex appeal

August 10, 2004 By Michael Hopkin This article courtesy of Nature News.

The right name can affect how others rate your looks.

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If you're a loser in the dating game, your name might be part of the problem. New research has revealed that the vowel sounds in your name could influence how others judge the attractiveness of your face.

Amy Perfors, a cognitive scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who carried out the study, believes the effect is subconscious. Observers unwittingly deem others better looking if they have the right moniker, she says.

Perfors made the discovery by posting pictures of 24 friends on hotornot.com, a website that allows users to award marks out of ten for others' attractiveness. Names are not usually displayed with the pictures, but for her experiment Perfors made sure that a name (not necessarily a truthful one) was displayed in the photo's upper corner.

She later posted the same photographs with different names, and once again collected the feedback. Average scores for the faces changed depending on the name they were given, Perfors told the annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society last week in Chicago, Illinois.

Recipe for success

So what are the ingredients of a sexy name? For boys, a good name will contain vowel sounds made at the front of the mouth, such as 'e' or 'i' sounds; names with fuller, rounder vowel sounds such as 'u' tend to score lower. So pat yourself on the back if you're called Ben... but if your name is Paul you might have to work harder to snare a date.

The opposite is true for girls, Perfors found. Women with round-sounding names such as Laura tended to score higher than those with smaller vowel sounds. "Unfortunately for me, Amy is one of the bad names," Perfors laments.

Unfortunately for me, Amy is one of the bad names
Amy Perfors
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The finding that men with 'small-sounding' names are attractive might seem counterintuitive, Perfors admits. "Front-mouth vowels imply smallness," she says. "But when girls are looking for mates, they don't necessarily want a super testosterone-charged guy. They want someone who will hang around and be a provider."

All the Pauls and Amys out there shouldn't worry unduly, Perfors adds. "If you are a good-looking person with a bad name you are still more attractive than an unattractive person with a good name."

Top tomboys

Perfors also found that the cultural connotations of a name could influence how attractive people find those with such names. She asked people to rate the 'masculinity' or 'femininity' of different names, to see whether this affected subjects' scores on the website.

Predictably, guys with the names deemed most masculine tended to score highest. Names were generally judged masculine because they contained strong consonants such as 'b' and 'k'. But girls scored higher when they had either a very feminine or a strongly masculine name; names judged to be somewhere in the middle scored worst.

The finding seems say that guys need a rugged name to impress the ladies, whereas being a tomboy is cool for girls. "So much of our culture says that tomboy stuff is ok, but wimpy guys are not," Perfors says.

If you're a good-looking person with a bad name you're still more attractive than an unattractive person with a good name
Amy Perfors
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Perfors argues that the discovery that vowel sounds can influence a person's perceived attractiveness is the more interesting finding, because it seems to be a subconscious effect. Experts, including the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, have previously argued that vowel sounds are arbitrary building blocks with no intrinsic meaning.

Which brings us to the most pressing question of all: is my own name, Mike, a help or a hindrance when it comes to attractiveness? "Mike is a front vowel sound, so it's a good name," says Perfors. "If you do badly with the ladies you can't blame it on your name."

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