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Sounds that make you smile and share: a phonetic key to prosociality and engagement


  • Kevin M. Kniffin

    () (Cornell University)

  • Mitsuru Shimizu

    (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville)


Abstract 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Kevin M. Kniffin & Mitsuru Shimizu, 2016. "Sounds that make you smile and share: a phonetic key to prosociality and engagement," Marketing Letters, Springer, vol. 27(2), pages 273-283, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:mktlet:v:27:y:2016:i:2:d:10.1007_s11002-014-9328-8
    DOI: 10.1007/s11002-014-9328-8

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Roland G. Fryer & Steven D. Levitt, 2004. "The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 119(3), pages 767-805.
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    5. Richard Klink & Gerard Athaide, 2012. "Creating brand personality with brand names," Marketing Letters, Springer, vol. 23(1), pages 109-117, March.
    6. Scott Wright & Chris Manolis & Drew Brown & Xiaoning Guo & John Dinsmore & C.-Y. Chiu & Frank Kardes, 2012. "Construal-level mind-sets and the perceived validity of marketing claims," Marketing Letters, Springer, vol. 23(1), pages 253-261, March.
    7. Kevin Kniffin, 2009. "Evolutionary perspectives on salary dispersion within firms," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 11(1), pages 23-42, April.
    8. Raphael Silberzahn & Eric Luis Uhlmann, 2013. "It Pays to Be Herr Kaiser Germans With Noble-Sounding Surnames More Often Work as Managers Than as Employees," Post-Print hal-00980265, HAL.
    9. Green, T. Clifton & Jame, Russell, 2013. "Company name fluency, investor recognition, and firm value," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 109(3), pages 813-834.
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    Marketing; Brand names; Sounds; Cooperation; Engagement;


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