You’re Not Stupid, Your Last Name Just Starts With An ‘S’
Being dumb as hell isn’t without explanation. Our neurological hardware is full of bugs and biases that can lead to all kinds of flawed thinking and decision-making. Want to believe you’re smarter about a subject that you are? Try the Dunning-Kruger effect. Want to believe that science confirms your spiritual beliefs? Confirmation bias has you covered. Want to believe you should keep spending money even though you’ve already lost thousands of dollars on the same exact thing? The sunk-cost fallacy is for you.
And now, a new dumb-as-hell way of thinking has just dropped — teachers favoring students whose last names come earlier in the alphabet, a practice researchers refer to as “alphabetism.”
“If your name is at the end of the alphabet, you’re less likely to be identified by teachers as an outstanding student,” study co-author Jeffrey Zax, explained in a press release. Zax, an economics professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, obviously has a last name that could leave the impression that he has an axe to grind, so to remain as objective as possible, he teamed up with graduate student Alexander Cauley, which allowed them to have both ends of the alphabet covered — or if not A to Z, at least C to Z.
Zax and Cauley (surprisingly not a law firm, or a TV show about a law firm), analyzed data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study that tracked the academic performances and IQs of 3,281 males who graduated high school between 1957 and 2011. From there, they looked at those who had identical IQs and grades, but different last names.
“Statistically, we were looking at two people who were carbon copies of each other,” Zax explained. “Even though they were the same in every other way, the fellow with the initial at the front of the alphabet was substantially more likely to be designated informally by teachers as an outstanding student.”
The likelihood of being labeled an “outstanding student” dropped by 10 percent for every 10-letter gap. “This was all just really dramatic. It’s purely the initial doing it,” Zax added. “If you’re a Clark, you’re maybe 10 percent more likely to be identified as an outstanding student than your twin who happens to take on the last name of Norton."
The research suggests that the effects of alphabetism could follow students into the early portion of their careers, too. Fortunately, it seems to dissipate by mid-adulthood, when performance is “superseded by observable characteristics that are more directly expressive of ability,” Zax and Cauley concluded.
Until then, though, it would appear that figuring out who is a class’ star pupil is as easy as ABC.