Thursday, October 27, 2011

How Names Affect Behaviour.

Let’s play a wicked game. I have put you in a small room without an internet connection or mobile phone. You have to pick 1 candidate for an elite job without conducting an interview. You won’t be given any résumés. No clue about age, sex, work experience or how that person looks. All you’ll get is a few names. You’ll have less than 10 seconds to make your choice. READY?

The names are: Kanda, Mookiah, Sapna, Russell and Banumathi. Chant these faceless names in your head. And now take your pick. Before you arrive at a decision point, remember it’s for a top job in a 5-star hotel. OK, have you made your choice?

Alright, let me leap to my first guess. Mookiah didn’t make the cut, right? I knew it, you racist pig! You didn’t find his name hep enough, na? Poor Banumathi would have suffered the same fate. I bet your fat rear that your choice would have been either Sapna or Russell. Kanda wouldn’t have even figured in your radar!

See how my Sigmund Fraud act worked? I could sniff your answer from a mile. A big reason for this predictability is our baggage. The truth is: we are as biased as a Neo Nazi.

We made some primal assumptions in our heads based on our limited experience and exposure to people. We prejudged Banumathi to be the behenji types. We consigned Mookiah to a 2-star job. Kanda unfortunately sounded a little too local for a 5-star hotel. Russell had this white-skin aura going for him. And Sapna somehow conjured up images of a hot bimbo who’d be at ease pampering the glitterati.

That’s how our mind operates. We revel in passing judgments without any concrete basis. We assume all Ramanujams to be nerds! We can never picture a Katrina as a house maid, a Sundaralingam as a stand up comedian, and a Gandimathi as a super model. If the name is Bond, we parrot James Bond. If it’s Smitha, we imagine Silk Smitha. May be that’s why Shah Rukh quipped, “My name is Khan. And I am not a terrorist.”