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science of name forgetting

I know many, many, and I mean MANY people who claim they pretty much suck at remembering names. I do remember a person’s face, they say, but somehow I fail to connect it to his or her name.

Ready for another debunk?

Here comes.

Your brain is again playing games on you, because, my friend, name forgetting is just an illusion, a recent study suggests.

It’s embarrassing for sure and sends you down a mental spiral about why you can never remember people’s names, even though you seem to be able to retain faces just fine.

But the truth is, according to a study, your brain is actually a lot better at remembering names than it is at remembering faces.

Many of us just think we can’t remember names because of how embarrassing that moment can be when you have to ask for someone’s name again, or worse, get it wrong on the first (and maybe even second) try.

The new study comes from researchers at the University of York, who actually want to tell us that we should be kinder to ourselves when we forget someone’s name. Just drink vitamin B and Ginkgo biloba supplements or invest yourself more in games for the brain.

In a circumstance where you know someone’s face but can’t seem to place their name, you’re relying on a brain function called recognition to remember the person’s face, and another function called recall to remember their name.

And apparently, the research argues, your brain is generally better at recognition than it is recalled.

Say what?

In other words, it’s really not your fault if you can’t remember whether that one co-worker’s name is Dorothea or Theodora.

The researchers explained that you’re only aware that you’ve ever forgotten a person’s name at all after you’ve recognized their face.
Moreover, from the researchers’ perspective, it’s not often that you can recall a person’s name, but not their face — which is actually pretty true when you think about it. 

Because, when you forget a face at least, it’s kind of like I just don’t know you’re forgetting it, right?

If you’re sitting next to some random girl on the bus that you met once but don’t remember, well —  you just don’t remember her at all. The name is not in the game, you don’t recall her face, to begin with.

And as a result, you don’t beat yourself up for it the same way you do when you forget someone’s name. You don’t even really register the fact that you forgot their face, it’s a fact!

Our study suggests that, while many people may be bad at remembering names, they are likely to be even worse at remembering faces. This will surprise many people as it contradicts our intuitive understanding.

Knowing someone’s face, but not remembering their name is an everyday phenomenon.

Our knee-jerk reaction to it is to say that names must be harder to memorize than faces, but researchers have never been able to come up with a convincing explanation as to why that might be.

This study suggests a resolution to that problem by showing that it is actually a red herring (something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important question) in the first place.

Study co-author Dr. Rob Jenkins, of the department of psychology at the University of York

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