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Why are Kim and Kris Sitting in a Tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G?

What do Kim Kardashian and Prince William have in common? No, this isn’t the start of a bad joke; the answer is as straightforward as the letters in their names. Both Kim and William married individuals who share at least one of their initials (Kim Kardashian recently wed Kris Humphries and Prince William Mountbatten-Windsor married Kate Middleton - bet you didn't know his last name until now)! 

You may be thinking that this is an interesting coincidence, but psychologists would say there is more to it than that. From previous posts you know that similarity is attractive. Not only do we go for partners who share our values and personality traits, but there is also evidence to suggest that we have a tendency to end up with people who share our own initials. Why might this be the case? Well, because we love ourselves so very much! That's right, partners with similar initials are attractive because they remind us of how great we (and our initials) are.

Psychologists refer to the tendency to prefer things that resemble the self as implicit egotism, and this quirky phenomenon has been found to influence a number of important life decisions.1 For instance, it may impact where a person decides to live (as it turns out, people named George are more likely to live in the state of Georgia), what occupation an individual selects (people named Dennis are more likely to become dentists), and more to the point, who you are likely to marry. I promise, I am not making this stuff up, there is evidence to suggest that people are disproportionately likely to marry someone who shares their first or last initial.2

Although you may never have stopped to notice this, chances are you can think of friends and family to which this applies. A quick survey of my students (and their Facebook friends) found a number of people who were either in a relationship with someone who shared name-letter initials or knew someone who was.  When asked why this might be the case, one suggested that she would prefer to keep her monogrammed possessions! A plausible hypothesis, but researchers would likely argue that the preference and resulting decisions are being made on an unconscious level, outside of one’s awareness. That is, people generally hold positive feelings about themselves and these automatically extend to almost anything associated with them.3 Think about it, what are your favorite letters or numbers? Chances are you prefer your own initials or birthday numbers over others.

Feeling a bit skeptical? You are not alone. Critics argue that the evidence in support of implicit egotism is limited at best, suggesting that previous studies may have overstated the link between self-preference and major life decisions.4 Anecdotally, it is much easier to think of couples who do not share initials (e.g., Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie), as compared to those who do.

As we await future research on this intriguing phenomenon, I offer you a few celebrity examples of implicit egotism and attraction for your consideration: Calista Flockhart and Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammer and Kayte Walsh (yep, you knew this guy would show a preference for himself), Shania Twain and Frederic Thiebaud, Mena Suvari and Simone Sestito, and last but certainly not least, Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen.

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1Pelham, B. W., Mirenberg, M. C., & Jones, J. T. (2002). Why Susie sells seashells by the seashore: Implicit egotism and major life decisions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 469–487.

2Jones, J. T., Pelham, B. W., Carvallo, M., & Mirenberg, M. C. (2004). How do I love thee? Let me count the Js: Implicit egotism and interpersonal attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 665–683.

3Pelham, B. W., & Carvallo, M. (2011).  The surprising potency of implicit egotism: A reply to Simonsohn. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 25-30.

4Simonsohn, U. (2011). Spurious? name similarity effects (implicit egotism) in marriage, job, and moving decisions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 1-24.

Dr. Sadie Leder - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Leder's research focuses on how people balance their desires for closeness and protection against rejection, specifically during partner selection, goal negotiation within established romantic relationships, and the experience of romantic love, hurt feelings, and relationship rekindling.

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Reader Comments (1)

Absolutely compelling research.

October 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen
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