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Commentary: Who’s smarter? Atticus Finch or Atticus Q. Finch?

RICHMOND, Va. – Use your middle initial to look smarter.

If you like your marketing tips empirically based you may have noticed online buzz citing a new article from the European Journal of Social Psychology.

Middle name initials enhance evaluations of intellectual performance, according to an abstract of a research study by Wijnand A.P. van Tilburg of the University of Southampton and Eric R. Igou of the University of Limerick.

The researchers say they documented this amplification of “perceived intellectual aptitude” in seven studies. Middle initials in authors’ names increased the evaluation of the authors’ writing performance and increased perceptions of status.

This salutary effect was specific to intellectual performance, and was “mediated by perceived status.” In other words, if people already think lawyers are smarter than most people, lawyers may not gain as much from middle initial use as some other groups of allegedly smart people.

These findings “yield important implication for everyday life,” the abstract touts.

Lawyers may give more thought to whether to use a middle initial than do most people, as attorneys sign lots of papers and their names show up in court documents and on law firm letterheads.

With online searches revealing that many people share the same first and last names, more people probably already use a middle initial or name in order to stand out or just to protect their identity.