What’s your name again?
We’ve all been there: meeting or being introduced to someone for the first time and seconds later forgetting his or her name. You rack your brain trying to remember, but you just can’t seem to even come up with the first letter. Then you get frustrated and wonder, “Why is it that I find it so difficult to remember people’s names?”
After a while you shrug it off and say to yourself it’s just how you were born, but that’s not really it. According to some experts, our levels of interest have a lot to do with how well we remember names.
Recalling a person’s name has something to do with our interest levels.
“Some people, perhaps those who are more socially aware, are just more interested in people, more interested in relationships,” Richard Harris, Kansas State University’s professor of psychology explains. “They would be more motivated to remember somebody’s name.”
This applies for people in professions like teaching and politics where knowing names is beneficial. However, if one isn’t interested in the person they are talking to, or knows they won’t meet that person again, they are less likely to store the information because it is of little use to them.
Mitchell Moffit and Greg Brown, creators of the popular and seriously scientific YouTube channel AsapScience, say our brains are hardwired to recognize facial details like nose length, eye color and mouth shape. However, when it comes to names, which to us are completely arbitrary titles (not interesting), it’s a more challenging task for our brains to recall.
“Because names are random and hold no specific information in them,” they explain, “the brain struggles to retain them… And if the brain can’t make connections between multiple pieces of information, particularly things that are already familiar to the individual, it’s more likely to forget it.”
Moreover, in what is referred to as the “next-in-line” effect, the pair add: “Instead of watching and listening to the other [person], the brain starts focusing on its own routine—what they’ll say and how they’ll say it.”
This is mostly what happens when you are introduced to a stranger. You focus too much on what you are going to say that you fail to pay attention to what the other person is saying, such as his or her name.
But, just because you can’t remember someone’s name doesn’t mean you have a bad memory.
Your brain’s just trying to avoid information overloading.
Try as you may to recall, but details such as a person’s name just take several hours to be consolidated in the brain, especially where there was no prior motivation or interest to keep it in mind.
According to memory experts at University of Sussex, you can actually be forgiven for forgetting the name of a new acquaintance just minutes after you’ve been introduced. That’s because while memories can be recalled several hours after learning them, they are inaccessible to us for a period.
It is not fully understood why we have these memory lapses, but scientists believe it is a necessary part of the brain’s process to avoid overloading with information. Dr Ildiko Kemenes, one of the experts at the University of Sussex, explains:
“Memory formation is an energy-consuming process,” she says “The brain has a restricted capacity to learn things and preventing some memory formation would be a way to avoid overload.”
The key to a good memory, it seems, lies in levels of interest. The more interest you show in a subject, the more likely it will imprint itself on your brain. If someone strikes you as particularly interesting, it will also seem like you are not really using your memory to recall their name.
So, don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t remember your name. They’re probably not trying to be mean. Introduce yourself again, but this time try to be more interesting.
Featured photo credit: vissago via flickr.com