Alphabet dupe

How much of what we do is by choice? How much is influenced by others?

Apparently quite of bit of what we consider choice is programmed from an early age, and a crucial part comes from the classroom. That’s according to a pair of university researchers who studied the effect of surnames on buying habits.

Chances are if your last name starts with a letter toward the end of the alphabet your teachers had you sit in the back of the class, or stand at the end of the line. That meant while people in front were chosen for various opportunities, people in the back had to wait.

When they became adults, they made up for lost time. So goes the theory by Kurt Carlson of Georgetown University and Jacqueline Conard of Belmont University, who conducted the research.

They think the reverse is also true. People whose first names begin with the first letters of the alphabet, the people who sat near the front of the class or stood first in line, got first crack at opportunities. They’re used to being first, so as adults they tend to “buy late.”

The issue of choice is more than academic, especially if we want to remain free of most propaganda, both political and commercial. Several authors have made this kind of research accessible. In Outliers Malcolm Gladwell discusses the case of the Korean co-pilot who, because of cultural inhibitions, didn’t aggressively challenge his errant pilot before a crash. Blogger Laura Rowley writes about the issue and happiness in general on Yahoo! Finance. And Columbia professor Sheena Iyengar explores the positive and negative effects of decision-making in her book The Art of Choosing.