yukai chou gamification

Identity and Consistency: forces behind Ownership & Possession


(Below is a manuscript snippet of my book, Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. Please subscribe to the mailing list on the right to order the book when it launches. This post may be moved into a Premium Area after a certain period of time).

The power of our past and our identities

Another interesting effect of Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession is that it also drives us to value our own identities and become more consistent towards our past. After all, there are rarely things we hold more closely than our values, characters, and past commitments.

In fact, science has shown that the longer we live, the more attached we become to our existing beliefs, preferences, methodologies, and even our own names (much of the below research can be found in the book Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.)

Your Name is Your Game

A surprising study done by social psychologist Brett Pelham discovered that people are much more likely to choose careers that sound similar to their own names. To test this idea, Pelham looked up names that sounded like the word “dentist,” such as Dennis. According to the census data, the name Dennis was the 40th most common male first name in the U.S., while Jerry and Walter were the 39th and 41st, respectively.

Pelham then searched the national directory of the American Dental Association for dentists that have these three first names. It turns out, 257 dentists were named Walter, while 270 dentists were named Jerry, fairly consistent to the statistical base rate. However, there turns out to be 482 dentists named Dennis, which is close to eighty percent higher than the normal base rate of other names.

This means that, if you happen to be named Dennis, you have an eighty percent higher chance of becoming a dentist compared to if you were named something different.

Similarly, Pelham found that names starting with “Geo” such as “George” or “Geoffrey” are disproportionately likely to become researches in the geosciences; hardware store owners are eighty percent more likely to have names that start with the letter “H” than the letter “R,” but roofers are seventy percent more likely to have names with the letter “R” than the letter H.”

Your Name Affects your Location

Moreover, people tend to move to places that are similar to their own names too. People who move to Florida are disproportionately likely to be named Florence, while people who move to Louisiana are skewed towards being named Louise.

Mr. Washington is also much more likely to live on Washington Street than Mr. Jefferson. On that note, I’m glad that I have never considered a career in the medical profession, or else I might end up becoming an Urologist!

Even though no one would recognize or admit that their names played any role at all in determining these important life choices (studies have even shown that we prefer brands and even spouses that remind us of our own name, our attachment to our own identities become so strong that anything connected to that identity becomes desirable to us. It has to be good because, well, it reminds me of me!

Get mentored by Yu-kai Chou

Octalysis Prime Gamification

Every week I hop on a conference call to teach, answer questions, and give feedback to members of Octalysis Prime. If you want to take your Gamification practice to the next level, then come join us.


If you are interested in working with Yu-kai Chou for a business project, workshop, speech or presentation, or licensing deal, please fill out the form below..

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

4 thoughts on “Identity and Consistency: forces behind Ownership & Possession”

  1. Certainly demonstrates that we do not understand all our intrapsychic goings-on. Anyone know of something similar being used in online games?

  2. Amazing. I wonder if there is any more research in done in this area, definately deserves it.

    I feel the issue with identity today in the internet age is than consumers are suffering from identity fragmentation. BY that I mean that they are constantly required to enter passwords before they can interact on any platform, and regularly have to shift between then which is cumbersome.

You must engage in the conversation!!