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Greater trust in people with easily pronounceable names

Names influence the degree of trust we have in others

Psychologists from the University of Cologne have shown in an economic game experiment that easily pronounceable names convey a ‘good feeling’, which is conducive to ad hoc trust in risky situations. In the experiment, players’ names influenced the sum of money other players were willing to give them to invest – although they had never met them before. 

To protect ourselves against the risk of being cheated, we intuitively decide about how trustworthy we find another person. This decision is not solely based on our experience of a given situation, Dr. Michael Zürn and Junior Professor Sascha Topolinski from the Social Cognition Center Cologne (SoCCCo) at the University of Cologne were able to show in a game experiment. Rather, factors such a person’s name can influence our willingness to take a leap of faith. The results of the experiment have now been published in the article “When trust comes easy: Articulatory fluency increases transfers in trust games” in the Journal of Economic Psychology.

Participants of the economic game were able to increase their wins by entrusting money to a second player they did not know. The scientists had generated names for these virtual players beforehand that were either easy or difficult to pronounce, like Fleming and Tverdokhleb. Although the risk of being cheated was the same, the players entrusted a virtual co-player with about 10 percent more money if the person’s name was easy to pronounce.

‘In the experiment, we found out that easily pronounceable names are mentally processed more “fluidly”. The “good feeling” this creates facilitates the trust we have in a person – without actually being aware of it’, says Michael Zürn.

However, in everyday situations – for example in the development of product names or sales strategies – this potential for a positive leap of faith can also change to the contrary, the social psychologist believes. ‘Of course cleverly selected names can win our trust and get us to buy something we do not actually need. That is why it is better to deliberately choose whom or what to invest our trust in.’



Zürn, M., & Topolinski, S. (2017). When trust comes easy: Articulatory fluency increases transfers in the Trust Game. Journal of Economic Psychology. DOI: 

Dr. Michael Zürn
Universität zu Köln
Social Cognition Center Cologne (SoCCCo)
Richard-Strauss-Straße 2
50931 Köln
phone: +49 221 470 6693