Do you find yourself often forgetting people’s names as soon as they tell what their name is? I know I do, which is why I found this article and video so fascinating!
This video from ASAP Science was fantastic to watch. The video has a narrator explaining the concepts as well as drawing them on a whiteboard as he goes. The video begins by explaining how our brain makes mental links and the Baker Effect, which is how the brain makes connections between your name and occupation. Then he explains the “Next-In-Line” effect. The “Next in line” effect is when your brain is so focused on how you will introduce yourself that it doesn’t spend much, or any, energy on encoding the other persons name. It is also mentioned that, in fact, you may just not care to learn the persons name due to meeting them in a situation where you’ll never see them again, like at a party. The narrator also brings up that if you are a social person, your ability to remember names may be improved because you enjoy meeting new people and making those new connections.
It’s fascinating why our brains don’t like to remember names. Names seem to be something so important in making new friends and forming new connections, and yet our brain is so quick to forget names. The problem lies in how the name is stored in the brain. When someone tells you their name, the name is put into working memory. The problem with it being put into working memory is that since you are most likely having a conversation with this new person, you don’t get a chance to repeat the name enough times that it can be encoded before the brain throws it out to make room for new information being taken in. The other problem lies with the nature of names. Names are boring and arbitrary for the brain. Your brain wants to focus on more entertaining details, rather than a name that can be common among many people and doesn’t give much information about the person.
This problem only gets worse as we age, so for people like me who are 20 and already can’t remember names to save their life, that’s a scary prospect. So what can you do to improve your ability to remember names better? Thankfully there’s a couple different ways you can improve your ability to remember names. First, you can play off the Baker’s Effect mentioned in the video. You can ask the person your meeting for their profession so your brain associates the name with a job, which makes the information interesting and not as arbitrary. I found an article written by Gary Small who says if you’re good with faces you can remember names. One of the tips he offers is simply repeating the name or having the person spell their name out for you. Another way Mr. Small suggests to help you remember names is to associate the names with something familiar to you. One example he gives is that when he met a man named Mr. Katz, he thought of cats playing. There are plenty of other ways to help you remember names, but these are some of the easier ways.