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Study: People More Likely To Trust Strangers With Easily Pronounced Names

Irvine, Calif. (CBS SACRAMENTO) -- People are more likely to immediately trust strangers with names that are easier to pronounce, according to a new study that finds people are less likely to believe a person's claims if they have a difficult-to-pronounce name – even when they are from the same country.

According to a new study from the University of California-Irvine, people with easily pronounced names have their claims immediately verified by others more frequently than their counterparts with difficult monikers. People were more likely to find immediate legitimacy in a stranger's claim when they had an easy-to-pronounce name, in research that lends support to the concept of "truthiness" – a gut feeling that something is true regardless of factual corroboration.

"In each experiment, strangers with easy-to-pronounce names were judged as being more familiar, more trustworthy and safer," Eryn Newman, a postdoctoral fellow in UC Irvine's Department of Criminology, Law & Society and the study's lead author, said in a statement. "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."

The immediate validation of "truthiness" was positively applied to easy names, rather than the inverse. The researchers write that "easy names pushed people toward saying the claims were true," rather than the difficult names pushing people to disbelieve them.

The researchers scoured foreign newspapers and websites from 18 countries worldwide to create fictitious names that were both easy and difficult to pronounce. They proceeded to examine student responses in experiments which asked questions about the level of danger for each person on the list, or imagining they are a tourist seeking a reliable tour guide.

One example made the claim, "macadamia nuts are in the same evolutionary family as peaches." This was found to be more believable to the students when attributed to "Andrian Babeshko"rather than fellow countryman namesake "Czeslaw Ratynska."

American television comedian Stephen Colbert coined the term "truthiness" in the October 2005 pilot episode of his satire program "The Colbert Report." Colbert created the term to create a distinction between "those who think with their head and those who know with their heart."

Colbert applied the term to then-President George W. Bush, in which Colbert suggested that "gut feeling" rather than critical thinking were used in his Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers along with the 2003 decision for the U.S. to invade Iraq.

"Truthiness" was named Word of the Year by both Merriam-Webster's dictionary and the American Dialect Society.

The researchers expressed some concern at the potentially misleading claims that could be interpreted as true based simply off of the ease of pronunciation in someone's name.

"Such an effect might have significant real world impact," the researchers wrote in PLOS One. "For instance, would the pronounceability of eyewitnesses' names shape jury verdicts?"

And the effect is not just applied to people, the researchers noted that the phenomenon translates to other judgments of fact.

"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."

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