Most of us have experienced this awkward moment: You recognize an acquaintance’s face but just can’t remember his name. Or maybe you’ve just been introduced to someone, but as soon as she walks away, you promptly forget her name.
“Oh, I’m just bad at names,” you say. But it’s not only you. Forgetting names is a very common problem.
So why does it happen? You may worry that it’s a problem with your memory, but it’s more likely that you’re distracted and not paying full attention. As memory expert and psychology professor Kaarin Anstey of the University of New South Wales in Australia explains it, remembering names and faces is often a matter of focusing on one topic — a person’s name, for example — and ignoring the other information going on around you.
It’s also a matter of repeating what you were just told. The “forgetting curve,” developed in the 1880s by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus and still used today, found that the brain’s ability to remember a piece of information plummets by about half 20 minutes after processing. If you don’t want to forget something, you need to consciously repeat or reinforce that information soon after you learn it.
For names, that can mean something as simple as repeating a person’s name in conversation to using some easy, effective techniques to help a name stick in your brain.
Staying Sharp’s Faces & Names Challenge is a fun way to both explore memory and learn about simple strategies that may help you next time you meet someone new.
This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.