…but depending on which of the four conditions they’d been assigned to, the rest of the email varied. For those in the first (control) condition, it ended there. In contrast, those in the fourth condition received this additional information:
I’m also lucky to be a friend of Roger Federer’s (we’ve known each other for ages, ever since kindergarten), we hang out or play Playstation, and from time to time we exercise together, go for runs or stuff, well, if he has time that is. Roger’s a really nice guy. All those honors he gets, he deserves it, trust me, he’s an exceptional person both on the court and beyond! This year again was great for him and I hope he’ll continue like that for another couple of years!
Looking forward to meeting you, See you Wednesday,
When the participants later showed up for the bogus study, they were administered a questionnaire that asked them, among other things, how they felt about “Michael.” As hypothesized, those in the two name-dropping conditions judged Michael as significantly less likeable and less competent in general than did those in the other two conditions. There was only a negligible (that is to say, statistically insignificant) difference between the conditions in which Michael claimed to be Federer’s friend or both his friend and training partner: participants didn’t look kindly on either claim.
Unfortunately, the psychological processes involved in this assessment aren’t entirely clear from this preliminary study. But it’s valuable to the extent that it empirically demonstrated a measurable effect of name-dropping on social evaluation. The authors believe that those in the name-dropping conditions felt manipulated by Michael, and that they viewed this sycophantic Federer love-fest as so jarring, unexpected and inappropriate that it prompted a search of Michael’s deceptive intentions.
The authors contrast their findings to a number of related studies showing that the audience’s perception of an actor’s relationship with positive others renders the actor more appealing. For example, in a study from 2006 by psychologists Seth Carter and Lawrence Sanna at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, people were more tolerant and forgiving of someone who shared their birthday with Mother Teresa than they were of others. And an older study from 1981 by psychologists Michael Kernis and Ladd Wheeler, then at the University of Rochester, revealed that people who were friends with physically attractive people were often seen as more attractive themselves. In contrast to the name-dropping experiment, however, participants in these other studies found out about the actors’ associations without the actor verbally boasting about their connections.
Oh, gosh, look at the time. I really must go; I forgot all about my dinner engagement with Gore Vidal this evening. You know how he gets. (I’ll dish about it next week.)
In this column presented by Scientific American Mind magazine, research psychologist Jesse Bering of Queen's University Belfast ponders some of the more obscure aspects of everyday human behavior. Ever wonder why yawning is contagious, why we point with our index fingers instead of our thumbs or whether being breastfed as an infant influences your sexual preferences as an adult? Get a closer look at the latest data as “Bering in Mind” tackles these and other quirky questions about human nature. Sign up for the RSS feed or friend Dr. Bering on Facebook and never miss an installment again.