How Your Name Influences You

Names. We all have them and names are not the same everywhere in the world. In Myanmar names used to consist in only one syllable, it’s only in the recent years that they started adopting names with two-three syllables: Ko, Mi, Min, Minh, Sa, Saya, U. Names usually offer information about persons, their social status, their occupation, their gender and even their age, for example, Mi for young women and Minh for young boys. Another interesting particularity of the Burmese names is that they evolve together (coevolution) with the people and their lives because people can change their name at will to reflect a change in their lives.  For example, a Ko (Brother) can become a Bo (military commander) or a Duwa (Chief).

Research is finding out that there are a lot of factors that are influencing our decisions and  lives, factors like our hormones, our posture, our family, group, colors, the architecture of the places we live and work in, even sports outcomes seem to influence trading decisions and the stock market, what our neighbors are buying (the Veblen Effect, socially driven spending), background music (for example, shops might use French music to increase sales in French Wine) and many more. It’s impossible to be consciousness of all the factors that are influencing your decisions.  We also have an innate trait to filter much of the information that is coming our way and the unconscious mind takes care of that. If the unconscious mind wouldn’t have taken care of the job than we would have to deal with information overload while having a limited working memory capacity. There is not a consensus among the researches on this capacity but I will mention the magic number seven, Miller’s Law says that our working memory can hold about 7 objects and apparently this is why phone numbers are limited to 7 digits. Obviously, there are exceptions to Miller’s Law, people with the Savant Syndrome like Kim Peek have a far better ability to process information and to store it into memory.

Let’s see how our names can influence our lives.

The Name-letter effect

The name-letter effect shows that people tend to prefer the letters in their name over other letters in the alphabet. Thus, our names are yet another factor that influences our lives without us knowing it. The exception to this rule are the people who don’t like themselves and who don’t tend to exhibit this effect. There is an effect similar to this one, people also tend to prefer numbers that correspond to their birthday, this effect is not that surprising since we know that many people tend to use dates related to their birthday as their password.

Real-life Applications: lab tests show that people tend to prefer brands matching their initials. Here, I don’t know of any advertising companies that can offer the possibility to target potential customers based on their initials, if you know, feel free to comment. A database analysis shows that people tend to donate more to disaster relief following hurricanes that share their initial letter – Kate and Kevin following Hurricane Katrina. We can see here how not only psychology can help us to uncover such effects but also big data analytics and machine learning.

The Wikipedia article says that the impact our names have on our occupations is controversial. Controversial or not it’s food for thought and it’s worth mentioning. For example, some research found that people do tend to have occupations similar to their names like Denis the Dentist. Other research using data-sets consisting of Twitter and Google+ accounts showed that there is no correlation. Well, I can see right away that social media accounts are not trustworthy data-sets since it’s very easy to create a fake Twitter account, I did a quick search and found that the estimation is that up to 48 million Twitter accounts are bots.

Maybe it’s less of a certainty that nowadays our names reflect what we do, where we come from and who we are but in the older days it was quite accurate considering the fact that people tended to live in the same place for generations and to have the same occupation for generations. Nowadays, the world is much more dynamic and revolving at a higher speed so a Bevis might not be a bowman, a Blair might not be a man of flatlands, Bond might not be a farmer and Braden might not be from the broad valley.

English Names and their meaning
English Names and their meaning. Source: www.world-english.org

A term worth mentioning is nominative determinism. Nominative determinism is basically what I wrote earlier, the tendency to have an occupation that fits your name but what’s worth adding here is the genetic factor. The strength of an ancestor named Smith because he was a, guess what, Smith, would pass through generations to a future individual that might be inclined to work with his hands and use his strength in his job. The same thing with dexterity in the case of Taylor.

Mind Wandering

I was writing in my last post about my theory on Why Random Words Pop Up in Your Head. My theory is that the brain fires up random neural networks as a way to keep them ‘fit’. If a neural network is not used then, given the brain’s neuroplasticity, its components are redirected to other neural networks. For example, if a neural network corresponding to a skill is not exercised and fit then it starts decaying resulting in the loss of ability in that skill.

Mind Wandering
Source: Pixabay

I searched on Quora for an answer to this random firing of words and thoughts but couldn’t find any satisfactory answer. However, I did came upon an interesting Wikipedia article on Mind Wandering. It seems that mind wandering is very common, no surprise here, it tends to appear when reading, driving or doing some low vigilance activity, it can be linked to car accidents, it’s more common in people with low or depressed moods. It also occurs when the person consumes alcohol. When I read this, my mind immediately wandered to James Joyce and his Ulysses, because frankly speaking the book looks like it’s written by someone with a short attention span and a “wandering mind”. James Joyce was a heavy drinker and eventually died because of his drinking, I’m pretty sure that his literary creativeness owes much to it. Ulysses is creative work but quite random, random like a ephemeral thought. Let’s return to neuroscience before going too deep into bacchanal artistic license.

It also says in the article that mental time travel is common during mind wandering, bringing up events from the past or anticipating  future events. As mentioned before, in my last post, this process can be useful when it comes to preserve memories and knowledge. The ability to project events in the future is another advantageous evolutionary trait; when you live in an environment with four seasons, planning in advance can be the difference between life and death.

Happiness: according to research, it seems that mind wandering is an unpleasant activity because during this time people tend to think of unhappy topics more than happy topics.  There is no surprise here and it makes sense when adding the limbic system into the picture.

Decision-making. This is quite interesting. When it comes to decision making it seems that people are as happy when they make decisions by the way of mind wandering as they are when they make decisions by the way of careful deliberation. This means that people are satisfied with mind wandering to give them solutions to their problems.

Neuroscience is advancing very rapidly and hopefully will offer better answers in the future on the intricacies of the brain and mind.

Why do Random Words Pop Up in Your Head

It may happen sometimes that a word unrelated to any thought processes that you are having or had to just pop up suddenly. I don’t know how frequent random process is happening in the general population but for me it’s rare, when I’m running it seems to happen a bit more frequent.

I find this phenomenon interesting, my explanation is that it has to do with the unconscious, in recent years neuroscientists showed that the unconscious mind is responsible for much, if not all, of our actions . So what happens is, the unconscious makes a quick, shortcut-type decision based on the patterns that it has and then the prefrontal cortex, the conscious, rationalizes the reason why we did that action.  We also know that the mind triggers random thoughts to pop up, the whole basis of meditation is to remove this random thoughts that pop up. We also know from neuroscience that neural network get stronger the more you access them, the myelin sheath that surrounds the axons gets stronger and this in turn makes that particular neural network to fire up faster when required.

How important is myelin? Well, in order to illustrate its importance consider what can happen when you start losing it: “impairs the conduction of signals in the affected nerves. In turn, the reduction in conduction ability causes deficiency in sensation, movement, cognition, or other functions depending on which nerves are involved”.  My guess is that the brain evolved to fire up random neural networks in the form of thoughts and words as a form of “exercise”. This randomness is basically how the brain “works out”, it triggers a random thought, that thought triggers in exchange other ones in a thought circuit and so on. It can happen sometimes to have a repetitive circuit of thoughts.

Given the neuroplasticity of the brain which means that the brain tends to allocate neurons from less utilized networks to highly used networks – that’s why you start forgetting words and skills that you don’t use – the effect of not triggering random thoughts can lead to loss of memory. It’s clear why evolution would favor a brain that generates random thoughts over one that doesn’t. The hominid with a zen-like, thoughtless mind has a higher probability to forget crucial survival knowledge, skills, which plants are edible, which plants are poisonous, hunting and trapping techniques, how to make fire, where are the water sources, memories of unexpected situations and their outcomes. Such an hominid won’t stick around for too long if he has to re-learn things through trial and error more frequently than it should. For example, tribal songs are a great way to transmit and keep knowledge in an oral form. Oral tradition lasted quite long, even long after writing first appeared. Songs are designed to be repeated and mimicked and the word repetition is the key here. There is a wise saying: “Repetition is the mother of learning”.

So this would be my theory on this subject: the mind triggers randomness and repetition as a way to consolidate memory and learning.

#DeleteFacebook

I don’t have to do much convincing in this post on why it’s a good idea to #DeleteFacebook because much of it was done already by Facebook and its actions. Actions speak louder than words. This post has already written itself.

Mark Zuckerberg Body Language
This is how a guilty face looks like

Numerous studies on the impact of social media in our lives were made and the consensus is that social media has a negative impact and it affects our mental health:

It’s addictive

It triggers more sadness, less well-being

Comparing our lives with others is mentally unhealthy

It can lead to jealousy—and a vicious cycle

We get caught in the delusion of thinking it will help

More friends on social doesn’t mean you’re more social

If these arguments are not enough than check out this video with former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya:

 

“I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth.”

Zuckerberg has a team of 12 moderators that manages his Facebook account, posts in his behalf and moderate comments on his page. Twitter’s founder, Jack Dorsey doesn’t really uses Twitter. There is a saying among drug dealers: “Never get high on your own supply”. These founders and executives are intelligent enough to successfully build a highly addictive product and are also intelligent enough to stay away from their creations. More  info in this article.

Zuckerberg highly values his privacy, spent more than $30 million to buy 4 neighboring houses for privacy reasons: read the article here

At the same time, he doesn’t value your privacy, selling your data to the highest bidder or even giving it for free to Intelligence Services like the NSA. If you are not paying, you are the product.

Check out this video, Mark Zuckerberg gets very embarrassed and starts sweating when questioned about Facebook privacy.

These days, Facebook is embroiled in a huge scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, the company’s stock value is plummeting and it’s getting sued by its investors. The company lost 2.8 million young U.S users in 2017 alone. It seems that the newer generation is smartening up as it becomes more aware of the dangers of social media.  Facebook’s fall is predictable and it’s happening sooner that I thought it will.