Research has long since shown us that a person’s first name affects others’ judgements of their attractiveness (Erwin, 1993) and how popular they are (McDavid & Harari, 1966).  This effect has also been found to be applicable in more applied settings such as getting a job (Cotton, O’Neill & Griffin, 2008), or positive judgements in a beauty contest (Garwood, Cox, Kaplan, Wasserman & Sulzer, 1980).  Furthermore, it has consistently been shown that physically attractive individuals have other positive characteristics attributed to them, for example, they are perceived as being more sensitive, kind, strong, sociable and sexually warm, and our perceptions of the future for more attractive people is that they will have more prestigious jobs, have happier marriages and generally have more fulfilling lives (Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972).

A recent study by Greitemeyer & Kunk (2013) investigated whether a person’s name and their physical attractiveness affected responses to their Facebook friendship requests.  Consistent with previous studies, the researchers predicted that the participants in their study would be more likely to accept friendship requests from those who had more positive first names and those who were more physically attractive.

Julie Tim / Shutterstock
Source: Julie Tim / Shutterstock

They created a mock-up of a Facebook profile containing information about a target person. In the mock-up, the target person had either a positive or a negative first name, and appeared with a photo that was either attractive of moderately attractive. The names the researchers used were selected on the basis of earlier work where participants were asked to rate a number of different first names in terms of being positive or negative.  Physical attractiveness was assessed in a pilot study in which people were asked to judge photos as being either attractive or moderately attractive.  These Facebook mock-ups using the combination of attractive/moderately attractive photos with positive and negative first name were created for both genders.  Participants in this study received just one friendship request from one of the above variations of a target person, and the researchers were interested in whether the participants accepted the friendship request.

The findings of this study revealed that the target’s name did affect Facebook friendship request acceptance, in as much as participants were more likely to accept a friendship request from a person with a positive first name as opposed to a negative first name.  This difference was observed for male targets as well as female targets.  Similarly, friendship acceptance was higher when the request was received from an attractive target compared to a moderately attractive target, with the same pattern again being the case for male and female targets.

The researchers also found an interesting interaction between name type and physical attractiveness.  If the target was moderately attractive then name type had an affect on friendship acceptance, in as much as this was increased if the moderately attractive person had a positive first name as opposed to a negative one.  However, if the target was attractive, then friendship acceptance was similar, despite the target having a negative first name.  To say this another way, physical attractiveness did not seem to affect friendship acceptance, so long as the target had a possible first name. 

These findings may be applicable only in online interaction, and the researchers concede that further research is required looking at whether these findings may be applicable in face to face interactions.  Overall however, the results of this study indicate that the negative affects of name type can be compensated for by being physically attractive and similarly the effects of physical attractiveness can be somewhat compensated for by name type, at least as far as Facebook friendship requests are concerned.  Being moderately attractive and having a negative first name however may have an adverse affect on Facebook friendship request acceptance.

Given the wealth of previous research which has outlined the advantages for physically attractive people with positive names, the findings of the study described here are unsurprising.  However, there are more serious implications in as much as having a Facebook friendship request accepted can give someone a positive feeling, whereas having a friendship request rejected may leave a person feeling disappointed or lonely.  Further study is necessary in order to investigate whether these emotional reactions are similar to being accepted or rejected as a friend in a face to face situation, and the extent of these consequences for a person’s general happiness and overall wellbeing.

References

Cotton, J., O'Neill, B. S., & Griffin, A. (2008). The “name game”: Affective and hiring reactions to first names. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23, 18–39.

Dion, K. K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 285–290.

Erwin, P. G. (1993). First names and perceptions of physical attractiveness. Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 127, 625–631.

Garwood, S. G., Cox, L., Kaplan, V ., Wasserman, N., & Sulzer, J. (1980). Beauty is only “name” deep: The effect of first-name on ratings of physical attraction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 10, 431–435.

Greitemeyer, T. & Kunk, I. (2013) ‘Name-Valence and Physical Attractiveness in Facebook: Their Compensatory Effects on Friendship Acceptance’ The Journal of Social Psychology, 153(3), 257–260.

McDavid, J. W., & Harari, H. (1966). Stereotyping of names and popularity in grade-school children. Child Development, 37, 453–459.

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