The Name-Letter Effect


Angela Lipsitz and Lance Gifford suggest using the name-letter effect to illustrate self-serving bias as well as processing without conscious awareness. Both are important topics in this chapter.


Research indicates that people think of the letters in their own name as better letters. This name-letter effect may be a specific example of the mere ownership effect—valuing objects that are part of oneself more than objects that are not.


To demonstrate the name-letter effect distribute a copy of Handout 12–23 to each student. Acknowledge that, although the task may seem silly, you would like them to rate how much they like each letter. Each student should do so rapidly just giving immediate impressions.


After everyone has finished, have each student print his or her first and last names at the top of the handout. Next, explain the meaning of the letters above the columns on the right: IYFN represents “in your first name,” NIYFN stands for “not in your first name,” IYLN represents “in your last name,” and “NIYLN” stands for “not in your last name.” Tell students to fill in the rating for each letter under the appropriate column and finally calculate the mean for each column. Then ask, “How many of you had a higher average for letters in your first name than for letters not in your first name?” Most hands will go up. Repeating the question for the last name will typically give the same result.


Explain the name-letter and mere-ownership effects. Indicate that they have been found in over a dozen languages. Through careful research, psychologists have shown that the name-letter effect is not due to name letters being more frequent, to an attachment to letters first written, or to participants guessing the purpose of the research.


Lipsitz, A., & Gifford, L. A. (2003). The name-letter effect. Teaching of Psychology, 30, 58–59.