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J Exp Psychol Gen. 2019 Sep;148(9):1595-1614. doi: 10.1037/xge0000662. Epub 2019 Aug 1.

Does the name say it all? Investigating phoneme-personality sound symbolism in first names.

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Department of Psychology.


Sound symbolism has typically been demonstrated as an association between certain phonemes and perceptual dimensions (e.g., size or shape). For instance, the maluma-takete effect is the sound symbolic association between sonorant and voiceless stop phonemes and round and sharp visual shapes, respectively. Here we explored a novel association between phonemes and a more abstract dimension: personality. Further, although sound symbolism has often been examined using nonwords, here we studied it in the context of existing first names. In Experiments 1 and 2, we presented first names containing sonorant versus voiceless stop consonants and found that participants associated these with different personality factors from the HEXACO model of personality. In general, names with sonorant phonemes (e.g., Mona, Owen) were associated with high Emotionality, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness, whereas names with voiceless stop phonemes (e.g., Katie, Curtis) were associated with high Extraversion. In Experiment 3, we examined whether the associations of a person's name predict their personality. A sample of 1,071 individuals provided their names and completed a HEXACO personality inventory. We found no real-world evidence of the associations we observed in the lab. In Experiment 4, we used invented names and tested participants in the lab once again, finding evidence of the same associations as in Experiment 1 and 2. This suggests that phonemes, and not just existing knowledge of individuals with particular names, are key to the associations observed. Finally, in Experiment 5, we found that these effects are not mediated by likability. We discuss potential mechanisms for the observed associations. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).


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