NCBI ROFL: What's in a name? Part I: U.G.H. you're going to D.I.E.

By ncbi rofl | August 9, 2010 8:00 am

monogramWhat’s in a name: mortality and the power of symbols.

“One’s attitude about oneself, and the treatment one receives from others, might be affected, in some small but measurable way, by stigmatic or salutary labeling due to one’s name. If names affect attitudes and attitudes affect longevity, then individuals with “positive” initials (e.g., A.C.E., V.I.P.) might live longer than those with “negative” initials (e.g., P.I.G., D.I.E.). Using California death certificates, 1969-1995, we isolated 2287 male decedents with “negative” initials and 1200 with “positive” initials. Males with positive initials live 4.48 years longer (p<0.0001), whereas males with negative initials die 2.80 years younger (p<0.0001) than matched controls. The longevity effects are smaller for females, with an increase of 3.36 years for the positive group (p<0.0001) and no decrease for the negative. Positive initials are associated with shifts away from causes of death with obvious psychological components (such as suicides and accidents), whereas negative initials are associated with shifts toward these causes. However, nearly all disease categories display an increase in longevity for the positive group and a decrease for the negative group. These findings cannot be explained by the effects of death cohort artifacts, gender, race, year of death, socioeconomic status, or parental neglect.”

Bonus excerpt and table:
“To create a list of positive and negative initials, we generated (by means of the Unix electronic dictionary) an exhaustive list of three-letter English words, ranging from “ace” to “zoo.” We then searched this list for all the words that suggest positive self-regard or positive prospects. Words with alternate nonpositive meanings (e.g., “top”) were not included. This list was supplemented with three-letter “near words” (e.g., “luv”) with the same type of positive connotation. Disagreements between the investigators were resolved by discussion. The positive list then consisted of the initials: ACE, GOD, HUG, JOY, LIF, LIV, LOV, LUV, VIP, WEL, WIN, WOW. By a parallel process, we defined a list of negative initials: APE, ASS, BAD, BUG, BUM, DED, DIE, DTH, DUD, HOG, ILL, MAD, PIG, RAT, ROT, SAD, SIC, SIK, UGH. Again, all three investigators had to agree on the negative connotations of the words, and words with two meanings were only included if both were negative (e.g., “ass” or “bum”).”

fig 1

Table I. Average age at death (sorted from low to high) for each of the positive and negative initials

mortality

[Ed. note: A later study found the opposite result.]

Photo: flickr/bryanrmason

Related content:
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Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: Humor and death: a qualitative study of The New Yorker cartoons (1986-2006).
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: World Cup Week: Can watching World Cup football kill you?

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NCBI ROFL is the brainchild of two Molecular and Cell Biology graduate students at UC Berkeley and features real research articles from the PubMed database (which is housed by the National Center for Biotechnology information, aka NCBI) that they find amusing (ROFL is a commonly-used internet acronym for "rolling on the floor, laughing").Follow us on twitter: @ncbirofl

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