Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Impact Of A Name On Personality

Jack Dikian


Looking at yourself in the mirror – seeing the person you know so well. Better than anyone – this person called Kate, Kelly, or David. Would you feel the same way about yourself if you had a different given name? Would you still see the person you know so well…

Many of us at some point in our lives have wondered what we would be like if we were given a different name. If we went through school with a different name, if our work mates knew met us with a different name. Some of us may even feel that we are more of a Jennifer instead of a Jenny, or a Sarah with a “h” rather than a Sara.

Not only do some of us have strong perceptions about first names and associate them with success, luck and attractiveness, many people walk around with stereotypes in their heads that can influence all sorts of decisions, yet don't even realise it, however with very real consequences in everyday life.

This is particularly true in some cultures. For example, in the Jewish culture it is accepted that a name does indeed determine someone's destiny and health in general. Not only does a Jewish person feel that the given name characterizes the person who possesses it, he feels that when he/she gives a newborn son or daughter their given name, that offspring's basic personality and traits are being defined, and in a sense, his entire approach to life is mapped out for him in advance.

Having a rare name or a very common one must be a very different experience to live with. With a rare name, one may feel a little more special or even unique. With a common name, one is more likely to have friends (or foes) with the same name, which could only change our ego perception associated with our name.

More importantly, living with a name that we like or one that we dislike does have serious consequences on self-confidence, happiness or the way we relate to others in society. For example, what would it be like if you didn’t always get asked to special your name, or even explain your name when meeting people you don’t know.

According Dr Martin Skinner, a social psychologist at Warwick University, people by at large make the most of their given name. Dr Skinner says that efforts can overwhelm the impact of a name. The real consequence is not in the actual name itself, but in the intentions behind it," says Dr Martin Skinner, a social psychologist at Warwick University.

"Names usually reflect parental aspirations, so someone who wants their child to be taken seriously will give them a name that has weight and is not frivolous - whatever class they are."

A name certainly plays more of a part than we think, according to Dr Wiseman. While many factors influence how we view a name - from liking a successful actor to disliking your boss - these perception can have a very real impact.

Research has shown that such perceptions can become self-fulfilling prophesies, with teachers giving higher marks to children with attractive names and employers being more likely to promote those who sound successful, he says.

George Clooney regularly tops "gorgeous man" polls, yet his is the first name least associated with attractiveness, and luck in love according to studies, as is for Brian and Helen.

According to Wiseman, who, through his research asked more than 6,000 people about their perceptions of the most popular first names in the UK, observed some strong trends. Elizabeth and James are considered the most successful sounding first names, Lucy and Jack the luckiest and Sophie and Ryan the most attractive.

The author is particularly interested in the impact of given names in an ever-shrinking world. Names such as Elizabeth or a James that may be associated with success in the UK, might carry very different perceptions should Elizabeth or James decide to immigrate.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Promoting The Incompetent

Jack Dikian
Feburary 2000

Formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, a humorous essay depicting members in a hierarchy (read organization structure) being promoted so long as they work competently – however, sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent. This being their "level of incompetence". They then remain at this level unable to earn further promotions.

Dr. William R. Corcoran in his work Corrective Action Programs described the more generalized principle that anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails making the Peter Principle as special case.Observations on incompetence can be found in the Dilbert cartoons. Dilbert explains how an incompetent person can still be promoted into positions where he/she continues to remain incompetent.

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Psychology of Mirrors

Jack Dikian

October 2003

Why do Mirrors reverse left and right but not up and down?


Kids spent hours puzzling over the fact that their mirror images are swapped left and right but not up and down and it seems that there's much about mirrors that we may not understand.

One of the most intriguing objects invented by man is the mirror. It is closely connected to our own consciousness, reflecting both reality and illusion and proving us with a tool for self-contemplation. The mere presence of a mirror in a room changes our social behaviour because it seems to make us more self-aware. Unlike other very early inventions such as the wheel, people still find it difficult to understand how mirrors work.

Dr Marco Bertamini, from the University’s School of Psychology, conducted a number of experiments involving mirrors. He said: “People tend not to understand that the location of the viewer matters in terms of what is visible in a mirror. See the “Venus Effect”.

When participants were asked to estimate the image size of their head as it appears on the surface of the mirror. They estimated that it would be similar to their physical head. However, participants based their answer on the image they saw inside the mirror rather than on the image on the surface of it. They failed to recognise that the image on the surface of the mirror is half the size of the observer because a mirror is always halfway between the observer and the image that appears inside the mirror.

Researchers have shown that mirrors can affect human behavior, often in surprising and positive ways. People tested in a room with a mirror have been found to work harder, to be more helpful and to be less inclined to cheat, compared with control groups performing the same exercises in non mirrored settings. Reporting in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, C. Neil Macrae, Galen V. Bodenhausen and Alan B. Milne found that people in a room with a mirror were comparatively less likely to judge others based on social stereotypes about, for example, sex, race or religion.

“When people are made to be self-aware, they are likelier to stop and think about what they are doing,” Dr. Bodenhausen said. “A by-product of that awareness may be a shift away from acting on autopilot toward more desirable ways of behaving.” Physical self-reflection, in other words, encourages philosophical self-reflection, a crash course in the Socratic notion that you cannot know or appreciate others until you know yourself.

Other researchers have found that inactive women exercising face-to-face with their reflections walk away feeling less energized, less relaxed, and less good about themselves than women who work out without mirrors to gaze at. In the study, (study was published in the journal Health Psychology) Kathleen A. Martin Ginis, an associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, analysed the behavior of 58 college students after they spent 20 minutes on a stationary bicycle while wearing loose-fitting shorts, a T-shirt and running shoes. She says that the team was surprised to find that even women who were happy with their bodies were affected by the mirrors. "We thought that the effects would be strongest in women with the worst body image," she says, "but body image didn't matter."

The Left and Right Problem

Standing in front of a mirror and holding up your left hand. The person standing in the mirror holds up their right hand. It seems the mirror reverses left and right. It does not, however, reverse up and down.

The relative position from which you look in the mirror can make it seem like left and right are reversed. If for example, a person was standing above and behind the mirror, they, would describe you as lifting an arm near the right edge of the mirror because, they are standing opposite of you just like the mirror.

The mirror reverse is actually front-back. If you are heading north your image is heading south. Whilst we intuitively accept that left means left and right means right, in actual fact left and right are slippery concepts and hard to define. We need to know other things about an object before we can determine its right and left. For example, if handed a blob-like object and asked which side is its right side, we may not be able to determine that. It seems that we also need to know its top and front before we can identify its right side.

So, the three directions, top, front, and right are mutually perpendicular and it turns out that if we know two of them, then we can determine the third. For a person, a car, an animal, etc, the top and the front are unambiguous and intuitive - we use them to determine which side is the right side.

if we stand in front of the mirror and point at the mirror, then our reflection points in the opposite direction — the mirror image points back at us. In other words, the mirror reverses front and back. Our brain does not have to do any work to calculate the top and front sides of our reflected image. It uses them to calculate our reflection’s right side. More specifically the reflection’s up-down points in the same direction as ours, but the mirror image front-back points in the opposite direction. We point into the mirror and the reflected image in points out. Consequently, if top-down and in-out are accounted for, what remains for the brain is to cross left and right and we perceive the mirror reversing left and right.

Further Reading:

The Left Hand of the Electron, by Isaac Asimov, contains a very readable discussion of handedness and mirrors in physics.

The Ambidextrous Universe, by Martin Gardener is another book that covers this subject.

The Feynman Lectures Volume 1 contains a chapter Symmetry in Physical Laws that deals with what we mean by left and right, and how we might go about instructing a Martian on these concepts.

Key words: Mirrors, psychology of mirrors, human behaviour, self-image, self image, psychology, self-aware, self-awareness, self-reflection.