Simply being reminded of one’s middle name might make people less indulgent and more virtuous, according to new research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
“The idea for this paper came about when we noticed that it was common for parents to use a child’s middle name when disciplining that child. We hypothesized that this should create an association for consumers between their middle name and feelings of guilt,” said study author Chris Ling, an assistant professor at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University.
“If this association exists, then we hypothesized that we should also be able to see downstream effects on consumer’s behavior, such that reminders of one’s middle name could lead to consumers indulging less or engaging in behavior that is seen as more virtuous.”
To examine the potential psychological consequences of reminders of one’s middle name, the researchers conducted a pilot study and five subsequent studies, which included more than 1,200 adults from the United States and India. The studies only included those who had a first name, middle name, and last name.
The researchers found that reminders of one’s middle name were associated with increased feelings of guilt, but only among participants in the United States. “We found that for Indian participants, the association between middle names and guilt does not exist,” Ling said
Being reminded of one’s middle name was not associated with feelings of shame, anger, pride, or self-efficacy.
The researchers also found evidence that reminders of one’s middle name led to reduced preferences for indulgent items (for example, a fun pair of headphones or a Dairy Queen gift card) and made people more willing to donate to charity.
“The way that we reminded people of their middle names in our studies were quite simple. In some studies, participants simply saw their name on the screen (first-middle-last versus first-last), in other studies we showed participants a membership card and asked them to imagine their first, middle, and last names on the membership card,” Ling told PsyPost.
The findings provide evidence that “being reminded of our middle names can have an effect on our behavior. In this research, we found that simply being reminded of one’s middle name can decrease one’s indulgence due to feelings of guilt,” Ling said.
“In our paper, we found across multiple studies that reminders of one’s middle name led to increased guilt and decreased preference for indulgent consumption as well as an increase in virtuous behavior.”
The researchers believe that reminders of one’s middle name trigger feelings of guilt — at least in the United States — which in turn motivates people to change their behavior to alleviate that guilt. But they note they have only provided “preliminary evidence for this claim.”
“For example, while we show that middle name reminders do not necessarily increase shame or pride in the same manner as guilt, more work is required to investigate the possibility of these other emotions becoming associated with one’s names,” the researchers said.
The study, “Reminders of One’s Middle Name Result in Decreased Indulgence“, was authored by Rafay A. Siddiqui, Christopher Ling, and Frank May.