UC Irvine-led study finds ‘truthiness’ in people’s names

Oh limited brains!

The same scientists who discovered that photographs lend legitimacy to all kinds of claims have discovered a new route to Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness,” which is the gut feeling that something is true regardless of what the facts support.

A new, UC Irvine-led study found that people trust strangers with easier-to-pronounce names more than strangers with difficult-to-pronounce names – even when those strangers are from the same foreign country.

What’s more, people are more likely to trust claims when attributed to strangers with easier names. For example, the assertion that “macadamia nuts are in the same evolutionary family as peaches” was more believable when attributed to “Andrian Babeshko” than when it was credited to his countryman “Czeslaw Ratynska.”

“In each experiment, strangers with easy-to-pronounce names were judged as being more familiar, more trustworthy and safer,” said Eryn Newman, a postdoctoral fellow in UC Irvine’s Department of Criminology, Law & Society and the study’s lead author. “But what was most surprising is that the pronunciation of names had effects that extended beyond the name. People actually thought claims attributed to easy-to-pronounce names were more likely to be true.”

She said the phenomenon isn’t confined to people’s names either: “When we encounter new information, how easy or difficult it is to process plays an important role in all sorts of situations. For example, research shows people think that food additives with easier names are safer than those with difficult names.”

“To the Fred Flintstone parts of our brains, that feeling of familiarity signals something that we can trust,” Newman said. “But information that’s difficult to process signals danger.” [emphasis mine]

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i.e. Neil deGrasse Tyson an American astrophysicist would be trusted more than Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, an Indian-American astrophysicist

Incidentally  Chandrasekhar was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics for his mathematical theory of black holes, which was a key discovery that led to the currently accepted theory on the later evolutionary stages of massive stars.  


An exhibition on life and works of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was held at Science City, Kolkata, on January, 2011.

The Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched and deployed by Space Shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999, the same space shuttle that exploded in 2003. 

One more note of interest to me: 

"Chandraskhar had used top performing female high school students from Williams BayLake GenevaElkhorn and Burlington, Wisconsin to calculate immensely difficult mathematical equations entirely by long hand, and found that their abilities and vigilance were unparalleled. He then applied this first-hand knowledge with the talents of local "hillbilly high school girls" to speed up the slow-moving centrifugal Calutron project. This in turn allowed the enriched radioactive materials to be completed on time, in order to fashion the atomic weapons ultimately used to end the war. Without these raw materials, developed at the Y-12 National Security Complex these weapons never would have been tested or dropped on Japan."

Chandrasekhar's legacy


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