Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem recently published a report in the “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology” which found that strangers can pick the correct name of a person just by their appearance an outstanding 40 percent of the time. The study, entitled “We Look Like Our Names: The Manifestation of Name Stereotypes in Facial Appearance”, found that faces can match names because of social norms and stereotypes.
“This is a fascinating study,” commented Roni Segal, academic adviser for The Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, an online language academy, to Breaking Israel News. “The Bible is replete with stories and information about the significance of names. Sometimes, it takes 2,000 years for science to catch up with the Bible.”
In fact, names are so important in the Bible that the Sages teach that the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt, in part, because they kept their Hebrew names. The Passover Haggadah, read on the eve of the holiday, states, “And there they became a nation”. Biblical commentators note that this means that the Israelites remained distinct in Egypt through maintaining their Jewish clothing, language and names.
The researchers’ findings suggest that names more than tie us to our past. They can actually influence our look and show the important role of social structuring.
Eight studies were done on independent observers. The participants were shown colored head shots of strangers and were presented with a list of possible names for the people in the pictures. They beat the expectation that 25 percent of the time people would guess the correct name based on chance. In fact, the observers guessed the correct name 40 percent of the time. This was successfully repeated many times, both in Israel and with a similar study held in France.
Even when the researchers controlled the age and ethnicity of the people in the photographs, observers were able to guess the names. Shockingly, observers beat the odds of correctly guessing a person’s name even when shown only a person’s hairstyle, suggesting that people may choose their hairstyle based on a stereotype associated with their name. The researchers believe that something more than socioeconomic cues are at work.
It is important to note, however, that guessing a person’s name based on look only worked within cultures and did not work cross-culturally. In other words, those in France could not guess the correct name of Israelis.
“Our research demonstrates that indeed people do look like their name,” Mayo said in a statement, a senior lecturer in the Hebrew University psychology department. “Furthermore, we suggest this happens because of a process of self-fulfilling prophecy, as we become what other people expect us to become.”
With connection to the study, Segal pointed out to Breaking Israel News that the Hebrew word for soul is neshamah (נשמה) whose middle two letters are shin ( ש ) and mem ( מ-ם ). Shem (שם) in Hebrew means name. The idea is that one’s name is the key to his/her soul. Additionally, the Hebrew word for face is paneem (פָּנִים) which actually means, “what is inside”.
Amazingly, the researchers removed the human intuition factor by incorporating a computerized paradigm for matching people’s names to their looks. Even computers beat the odds when asked to choose the name for 94,000 different faces. This demonstrates what the Bible has taught from time immemorial, that faces contain relevant information related to our names.
“We are familiar with similar processes from other stereotypes like race and gender, where many times the stereotypical expectations of others affect who we become. We hypothesize that there are similar stereotypes about names, including how someone with a specific name looks, and these expectations really do affect our facial appearance,” noted Mayo. “The demonstration of our name being manifested in our facial appearance illustrates the great power that a social factor can have on our identity, potentially influencing even the way we look.”
The researchers suggest that social structuring starts from the minute that we are named rather than from our gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. This aligns with a Talmudic teaching which states that the only prophecy left in the world today is when parents name a child. God, so to speak, comes to them and puts into their hearts the name of their child.
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