Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 4: The self

Case Study: Implicit egoism and major life decisions

People's high views of themselves even extend to things they own or are attached to in some way (Pelham, Carvallo, & Jones, 2005; SP p. 108).

Nuttin (1985) found that people prefer the letters in their names to letters that are not in their names. The idea behind this tendency is that people generally like themselves and therefore like anything that is associated with the self. Our names are very strongly associated with our selves; they represent who we are. Therefore, our positive self-views are transferred to positive evaluations of our name letters. This name letter effect was found in a lot of countries, with different cultures and different alphabets.

Pelham, Mirenberg, and Jones (2002) went further with this idea and showed that people not only evaluate their name letters very positively, but also act like these preferences. People appear to base important life decisions on their name letters. In a set of 10 archival data studies, Pelham et al. showed that people (e.g., Dennis) choose cities with names that resemble their own names (e.g., Denver), and choose jobs that resemble their names (e.g., dentist). Another study by Jones et al. (2004) showed that people also choose a partner whose name resembles our own name (e.g. Denise). This also works for streets (e.g., Denper Street; Pelham et al., 2002).

Brendl et al. (2005) found similar results for brand names. People are more likely to choose a brand when the brand name starts with letters from their names than when the brand name does not. The authors called this phenomenon name letter branding.

However, if the idea is that a positive self-view leads to a preference for anything that is associated with the self, what would be the role of the valence of these self-views? If positive self-views lead to a preference for self-associated stimuli, then only people who feel good about themselves should show this tendency. Smeets, Holland, and van Knippenberg (2006) investigated the role of (implicit) self-esteem on these name letter product preferences, and they found that only people high in implicit self-esteem showed a preference for self-associated objects. People low in implicit self-esteem even showed the opposite effect; they disliked the self-associated objects more.


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In this chapter

  1. Chapter 4 introduction
  2. Constructing the self-concept: What we know about ourselves
  3. Constructing self-esteem: How we feel about ourselves
  4. Effects of the self: Processes of self-regulation
  5. Defending the self: Coping with stresses, inconsistencies, and failures
  6. Chapter overview (PDF)
  7. Fill-in-the-blanks
  8. Multiple-choice questions