Two resumes reach your desk: One from Kevin Jones, and the other from Yevgeni Dherzhinsky. Their qualifications are identical. Which candidate do you hire?
According to a recent study, pronounceability correlates with trustworthiness—at least in the mind of the person struggling to put too many consonants together. Which is why you probably sent Yevgeni a rejection letter.
The research, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, cites the concept of truthiness, a word coined by Stephen Colbert to describe the gut feeling "because it feels right." Even more wobbly than intuition, which can be weighed against bias, truthiness is the sense that something is right just because it’s right.
The researchers put together surnames and first names from newspapers in 18 different countries, to create 218 new name combinations—some easy to say, like Marciano Larrosa, and others more difficult, such as Mahbobeh Mir-Ma’soum. They then asked volunteers to rank the names by pronounceability.
Then, things got interesting: They told a separate group that these made-up "international students" provided trivia statements (Marciano Larrosa said, "Giraffes are the only mammals that cannot jump.") and were asked to label them as true or false. As expected, easy-to-pronounce names were proven more trustworthy than the difficult ones, regardless of the statement’s actual truth.
Hard to pronounce names feel more risky, the researchers said. "Imagine you are a tourist looking for a tour guide," they told volunteers. "You are not feeling very well on the day of your tour and want to avoid the tour leaders who are too risky and adventurous." They chose the easy names as their guides.
If you relate more to Dherzhinsky than Jones, it means you’ll have to work even harder to beat those unfounded biases. We’re not suggesting you Westernize your name—as immigrants have done since the forming of modern America, according to another study—but awareness of these findings can't hurt your chances.
Giving more information about yourself than a flat list of credentials can give you an edge of trustworthiness.
"Indeed, the more that people can rely on other diagnostic information—their past experience or general knowledge—to inform their judgments, the less inclined they are to rely on an experience of fluency," the name-game researchers say.
But the real lesson here is for those doing the hiring. Checking your biases, and relying less on "truthiness," could land you the best person for the job. Don’t miss out on a stellar employee because their name happens to be outside of your cultural comfort zone.
"Although pronounceability is tangential to decisions about safety, risk, and value," the researchers say, "we know that people nonetheless can turn to tangential cues when making judgments," that are often unfair. True that.
Hat tip: Salon