You Spin Me Round Round

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online


How likeable are you? Crazy as it sounds, one way to measure your likeability is to measure the shape of your face and the “shape” of your name. First of all, would you say that your face is angular (3 points), rounded (1 point) or somewhere in between (2 points)?


Now measure your first name by scoring just the vowels according to the following system –

a=2, e=3, i=3, o=1, u=1 – and then taking the average, as in the example below



e=3, a=2, i=3

(3+2+3) / 3 = 8/3 = 2.67


To find your likeability, simply calculate the difference between your face-score and your name-score by subtracting whichever is smaller from whichever is larger. For example, my face is very round (score =1) and my name score is 2.67. So, 2.67-1 = 1.67. The smaller this number the more likeable you are (the minimum is 0, the maximum is 2). It turns out I’m pretty unlikeable. But somebody called Bob (score =1) with a very round face (score =1) would score a perfect zero, as would somebody called Jim (score = 3) with a very angular face (score = 3).


But why? It has long been known that people perceive some words as sounding “round” and others as sounding “angular” (the famous bouba/kiki effect). A recent study conducted at the University of Otago in New Zealand demonstrated not only that this effect extends to people’s names, but that people whose name roundness matches their face roundness are perceived as more likeable; presumably because we are drawn to people who confirm, rather than challenge, our stereotypes.




Barton, D.N. & Halberstadt, J. (in press). A social Bouba/Kiki effect: A bias for people whose names match their faces, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. DOI: 10.3758/s13423-017-1304-x


A fully referenced version of this article is available at Order Are You Smarter Than A Chimpanzee? by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £12.99) for £11.04 at

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