If you are skeptical that the month you were born in decades ago determined who you were going to be, you can stop reading right now, because a new article in the Journal of Consumer Research takes correlation determinism to even wilder areas - namely that your name determines when you like to buy things.
Kurt Carlson of Georgetown and Jacqueline Conard of Belmont figure there must be a reason some people line up to buy things and others do not. In the modern world, sociology insists there are no coincidences, everything is cause and effect, so a shooter in Arizona must be motivated by right wing radio but, if he never listened to right wing radio, the climate of hate had to be behind it, and he isn't just some crazy sociopath. Something a caring society can fix.
It doesn't really work that way with people, but missing the opportunity to study when mass murderers are more likely to buy iPads, Carlson and Conard instead examined how quickly non-homicidal adults responded to opportunities when they wanted to buy something. Because correlation/causation errors can be made to do anything if you invent a closed system, they determined that, since people with surnames starting with letters later in the alphabet responded faster to sales, the names must be the cause.
They were pretty rigorous, noting that the last-name effect occurred in basketball tickets, cash, and wine and even hypothetical things like a sale on a backpack.
Sorry, ladies, it only worked for birth surname, not those changed by marriage. The researchers speculate this may be because people with names farther along in the alphabet are used to being last for roll call in class, in the phone book, things like that - so when they can be first, like to buy an iPhone, they rush obediently to the front of the line and buy their gift from The Steve.
"The idea holds that children develop time-dependent responses based on the treatment they receive," the authors write. "In an effort to account for these inequities, children late in the alphabet will move quickly when last name isn't a factor; they will 'buy early.' Likewise, those with last names early in the alphabet will be so accustomed to being first that that individual opportunities to make a purchase won't matter very much; they will 'buy late.'"
Of course, it may not be the name now as much as historically cheap people getting to all the lower alphabet names first. My last name is Campbell - Scottish - and if you know any Scottish people you know they were headbutting D and E named people if the letter C was on sale. Yet they were never able to take out B and A. As the Scottish Army against the English attests, the Scottish have never been great at finishing what they start. And do I rush out to buy things, even after seven generations in America? Absolutely not, I am far too cheap and I only figure it is a good deal when the item is gone. So maybe the researchers are on to something.
Citation: Kurt A. Carlson and Jacqueline M. Conard, 'The Last Name Effect: How Last Name Influences Acquisition Timing', The Journal of Consumer Research
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