People Make Biased Career Choices: people disproportionately choose careers whose labels resemble their names

Introduction (via Brett W. Pelham, Matthew C. Mirenberg, and John T. Jones)

Because most people possess positive associations about themselves, most people prefer things that are connected to the self (e.g., the letters in one’s name). The authors refer to such preferences as implicit egotism. Ten studies assessed the role of implicit egotism in 2 major life decisions: where people choose to live and what people choose to do for a living. Studies 1–5 showed that people are disproportionately likely to live in places whose names resemble their own first or last names (e.g., people named Louis are disproportionately likely to live in St. Louis). Study 6 extended this finding to birthday number preferences. People were disproportionately likely to live in cities whose names began with their birthday numbers (e.g., Two Harbors, MN). Studies 7–10 suggested that people disproportionately choose careers whose labels resemble their names (e.g., people named Dennis or Denise are overrepresented among dentists). Implicit egotism appears to influence major life decisions. This idea stands in sharp contrast to many models of rational choice and attests to the importance of understanding implicit beliefs.

Excerpts (via Brett W Pelham, Matthew C Mirenberg, and John T Jones)

What role do people’s thoughts and feelings about themselves play in their important day-to-day decisions and behaviors? Contemporary research on the self-concept suggests many answers to this question. For example, the desire to maintain positive feelings about the self appears to influence things as diverse as whether people derogate those who criticize their governments (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, & Solomon, 1997, 1999), whether people sabotage the performance of others when playing a game (Tesser & Smith, 1981), what people find rational (Kunda, 1990), and what people find humorous (Wills, 1981). Like people’s social beliefs and behavior, people’s beliefs about themselves are also influenced by the desire to view the self favorably. Most people have mostly favorable beliefs about themselves (see Crocker & Major, 1989; Greenberg & Pyszczynski, 1985; Miller & Ross, 1975; Paulhus & Levitt, 1987; Taylor & Brown, 1988; but cf. Kruger, 1999).

In short, a great deal of evidence suggests that the motivation to feel good about the self plays a role in a wide variety of important social behaviors. To our knowledge, however, very little research on the self-concept addresses whether self-evaluation plays an important role in major life decisions. For example, only a handful of studies have examined whether self-regulation processes influence people’s choice of relationship partners. Moreover, for practical reasons, most of these studies have examined attraction to strangers in the laboratory rather than attraction to long-term relationship partners (Huston & Levinger, 1978; but cf. Murray, Holmes, & Griffin, 1996; Swann, Hixon, & de la Ronde, 1992). We thus know relatively little about whether self-evaluations or self-concept motives influence important decisions such as where people choose to live and what people choose to do for a living.

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