posted on Jan. 21: McMaster researchers find shared names make e-mail kindred spirits


In an age of instant communication, what is it that makes us choose to respond to one e-mail over another and when are we more likely to offer help to a complete stranger?

The answer is when we share the same name as the other person, according to McMaster researcher Margo Wilson, a professor of psychology, and fourth-year student Kerris Oates.

The researchers sent out thousands of e-mails from hundreds of different Hotmail e-mail accounts, asking simple questions about local sports teams.

An analysis of the 2,960 e-mail responses showed that people had a perceived connection and a positive attitude with someone who shared their name. The e-mail recipients had a feeling of shared ancestry or kinship, the researchers found.

Their findings are to be published tomorrow (Jan. 22) in the British Royal Society's journal Proceedings B.

They said: “A shared name has emotional appeal; it reflects our social identity and status as defined by our descent. The importance of our kinship history is reflected in the burgeoning interest in tracing family trees. What this research shows is that shared names are effective in eliciting a minor act of altruism.”

The McMaster researchers found that when the e-mail sender (who requested some straightforward information) and recipient shared both names, the response rate was 10.33 per cent higher than if both were different and this was especially true for relatively uncommon names, which are better kinship cues than first names. Even where only the first name or surname are shared, the response rate and content are friendlier than when both names are different.

The research also found that there were significantly more replies from female names than male names.

In Canada, women are more likely to be the 'kin-keepers' as evident from the fact that they can identify more relatives than brothers with the same relatives and they, more than men, maintain contact with distant relatives.

The link between a name and kinship was borne out in England recently when millions of people overwhelmed the system as they tried to access the UK Public Record Office's 1901 census Web site.