The importance of names has been demonstrated for decision making related to individuals as well as companies. While previous researchers have focused on traits such as the fluency of names, we present three studies that focus on the role of the “hard e” or [ē] sound in relation to helping behavior. Because pronunciation of the [ē] sound requires a facial movement that mimics a smile particularly when the sound occurs at the end of a name, our research complements previous findings generated by the theory of embodied cognition in which biting on a pencil or chopstick evoked behavioral and mood changes. Study 1 finds that participants are more likely to help someone whose name ends with the [ē] sound while study 2 utilizes a broader set of contrasting sounds and finds a basic preference for the [ē] sound that is specific to women. Study 3 shows that women are significantly more likely to recall addressing their parents as Mommy or Daddy when soliciting help rather than Mom or Dad. Our findings complement previous research concerning motherese and highlight a phonetic cue for prosocial behavior that appears to offer insights for marketing and management. Just as the current studies are important in understanding interpersonal interactions, the findings have direct relevance for marketing campaigns that focus on consumer engagement.
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The authors would like to thank participants in the three studies as well as two anonymous reviewers for generous feedback. For helpful communications on related topics, the authors are grateful to Geoff Colon and Michael Ditchkofsky. With the standard disclaimer that any errors of omission or commission are ours, the authors are also thankful for research assistance from Kale Smith.
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Kniffin, K.M., Shimizu, M. Sounds that make you smile and share: a phonetic key to prosociality and engagement. Mark Lett 27, 273–283 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11002-014-9328-8
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