A rose by any other name: A social-cognitive perspective on poets and poetry

Maya Bar-Hillel
Alon Maharshak
Avital Moshinsky
Ruth Nofech

Evidence, anecdotal and scientific, suggests that people treat (or are affected by) products of prestigious sources differently than those of less prestigious, or of anonymous, sources. The “products” which are the focus of the present study are poems, and the “sources” are the poets. We explore the manner in which the poet’s name affects the experience of reading a poem. Study 1 establishes the effect we wish to address: a poet’s reputation enhances the evaluation of a poem. Study 2 asks whether it is only the reported evaluation of the poem that is enhanced by the poet’s name (as was the case for The Emperor’s New Clothes) or the enhancement is genuine and unaware. Finding for the latter, Study 3 explores whether the poet’s name changes the reader’s experience of it, so that in a sense one is reading a “different” poem. We conclude that it is not so much that the attributed poem really differs from the unattributed poem, as that it is just ineffably better. The name of a highly regarded poet seems to prime quality, and the poem becomes somehow better.
This is a more subtle bias than the deliberate one rejected in Study 2, but it is a bias nonetheless. Ethical implications of this kind of effect are discussed.

May, 2010
Published in: 
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 2012, pp. 149–164