Primary Sources

Choking in the clutch; Hungarian xenophobes; booze and bedlam at the ball game

The A’s Have It

Expectant parents have long considered the meaning behind names before choosing one for their child, but a recent study suggests it’s our initials that help determine our fates. The authors argue that our preference for our names is so strong that we unconsciously gravitate toward people, places, objects, and outcomes that begin with the same letter as our moniker: Mary is more likely to marry Mark, drive a Mazda, and move to Maryland than is Virginia, who’s more likely to marry Virgil, drive a Volvo, and move to Virginia. To test whether the influence of initials could override a conscious desire to succeed at something, the authors turned to professional baseball players and graduate students. An analysis of Major League Baseball records from 1913 to 2006 showed that players whose first or last name started with the letter K (the symbol for strikeout) were slightly more likely to fulfill the destiny suggested by their initials: they struck out 18.8 percent of the time, compared with 17.2 percent for other players. Likewise, MBA students whose first or last name began with a C or a D tended to end up with lower grade-point averages, and law students with A or B in their initials tended to end up at better-ranked programs than those whose initials included a C or a D. Students with initials from the very beginning of the alphabet did not, however, earn higher grades than those with grade-irrelevant initials. The authors explain that performance reflects both motivation and ability, so although having a name tied to “easy-to-achieve negative outcomes” might hurt you, having a name whose first letter reflects “hard-to-achieve positive outcomes” may not offer a boost.

“Moniker Maladies: When Names Sabotage Success,” Leif D. Nelson and Joseph P. Simmons, Psychological Science


Continental Divide

The debates in France and Britain may get the lion’s share of attention, but if you’re looking for places in Europe where immigration is really controversial, a new study suggests, head east and south. Data from a pan-European survey reveal three distinct types of attitudes toward immigration on the Continent. Scandinavians tend to be “lenient,” displaying few categorical prejudices against foreigners and expressing an overall generosity toward immigrants. Western Europeans likewise tend to lack generalized prejudices, but they have specific preferences as to which immigrants ought to be admitted, emphasizing markers such as education and income. Meanwhile, Europeans from eastern and southern countries—including Poland, Hungary, Greece, and Italy—tend to have sweepingly negative attitudes toward foreigners settling in their countries. Many people in this last group, whom the author labels “strict gatekeepers,” hail from countries that are relatively new to the EU and arguably lack the resources necessary to assimilate immigrants; the study also notes that the eastern European countries in the sample tend to have experienced a post–Cold War revival of nationalistic fervor.

“Guarding the gates of Europe: A typological analysis of immigration attitudes across 21 countries,” Eva G. T. Green, International Journal of Psychology


Don’t Even Think About It

There are two common explanations for why some athletes perform poorly in the clutch: either the pressure distracts them, or it causes them to focus too intently on usually automatic actions. To test the competing theories, two researchers studied 20 experienced Australian golfers in a low-stakes contest and a high-stakes competition with monetary prizes. The participants played three 10-putt rounds, and they were given different instructions at the start of each: first, they were told to concentrate on three things that were irrelevant to the task; then to focus on three words that related to technical aspects of their swing, such as arms, weight, or acceleration; and finally to concentrate on a single “holistic cue word” describing their intended movement, such as smooth. In the high-pressure situation, participants did worse when thinking about words related to execution; overall, golfers in both situations did best while concentrating on the holistic cue. The authors speculate that focusing on a cue word prevents experts from trying to “consciously control their movements under pressure,” which suggests that overthinking, rather than distraction, may be the greater danger facing athletes in the clutch.

“Choking under pressure in sensorimotor skills: Conscious processing or depleted attentional resources?” Daniel F. Gucciardi and James A. Dimmock, Psychology of Sport and Exercise

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