In Brief

It almost goes without saying that people tend to favor people, places and objects that they associate with themselves. Perhaps more surprising is the role that such unconscious or "implicit" egotism can play in people's major life decisions.

In fact, it may affect people's choices about careers and places to live more than they might admit, according to a study led by Brett Pelham, PhD, of the State University of New York at Buffalo and published in this month's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 82, No. 4).

In the study, Pelham and his team compared the first letters in people's names with the first letters of their home cities and states. In five different studies, the researchers analyzed 1990 census data, social security records and electronic telephone directories, controlling for socioeconomic status and ethnic background and examining migration patterns.

They found that people appear to gravitate toward cities with names similar to their own names. For example, Philadelphia is disproportionately inhabited by Philips, compared with cities of a similar size. The number of Mildreds in Milwaukee is much higher than what chance would predict. The same pattern holds true for state names.

What's more, the more closely places resemble people's first or last names, the larger the effect--for example, the number of Louises in St. Louis and Georges in St. George are particularly high, notes Pelham. But it's unlikely that people made a conscious link between their names and life choices.

"Georgia moving to Georgia is probably more likely to cite climate and a job as her reasons for moving, but the name may have a bigger effect than she realizes," he says. "Some people seem to make pretty big decisions based on [implicit egotism] alone."

He points to further evidence from another set of his studies, which link people's names with their career decisions. The name Laura, for example, is overrepresented among lawyers. To Pelham, the findings suggest that even major decisions "aren't just based on logic."

--B. MURRAY