It turns out Donald Trump's round face and matching "round" name might have helped get him elected. While a new study out of the University of Otago in New Zealand doesn't particularly home in on the US president, it does point out just how much people like it when names and faces match up, especially when it comes to politicians.
The bouba/kiki effect is a well known experiment in which people are shown two shapes: one amoeba-like blob with curved edges, and one star-like with sharp edges. They are then asked to assign each shape a nonsense word: either "bouba" or "kiki." In a 2001 study, it was reported that 95 percent of people looking at the two shapes assigned the blob the word "bouba" and the star the world "kiki." In other words, a shape that looked rounded sounded more like the word that requires you to round your mouth to say it, and a shape that looked sharp sounded more like a word with hard-edged consonants in it.
In the recent study, the effect was tested out on relationships between faces and names through two experiments.
In one, people were shown male faces that were manipulated to show either exaggerated sharp features or exaggerated round features. In the case of the round faces, participants correctly matched nine of them to rounded names like Lou and George, while for the angular faces, they got eight of the ten names (like Pete and Kirk) correct. Then the experiment was repeated with non-manipulated photos and, on average, the participants got 14 of the 16 round face/name matches right and 15 out of 16 correct in the case of angular faces and names.
Finally, the researchers applied the theory to 158 candidates for the US senate. They developed a matching score for each candidate based on the roundness or angularity of their faces and how much that matched the roundness or sharpness of their names. They found that the candidates who had the higher scores – that is, their face "matched" their name – got 10 percent more votes on average than candidates who names seemed totally out of sync with their faces.
"Those with congruent names earned a greater proportion of votes than those with incongruent names," said co-author and PhD student David Barton. "The fact that candidates with extremely well-fitting names won their seats by a larger margin – 10 points – than is obtained in most American presidential races suggests the provocative idea that the relation between perceptual and bodily experience could be a potent source of bias in some circumstances."
The candidate bias isn't surprising considering another finding of the study: that people tended to estimate their esteem of another person higher if there was a strong face/name match.
"Overall, our results tell a consistent story," explained co-author professor Jamin Halberstadt. "People's names, like shape names, are not entirely arbitrary labels. Face shapes produce expectations about the names that should denote them, and violations of those expectations carry affective implications, which in turn feed into more complex social judgments, including voting decisions."
The study, which the authors say is the first of its kind to link the bouba/kiki effect to face/name relationships, has been published in the journal, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.