David Anderson asked:
I am a great fan of your program and listen regularly to your podcasts when travelling.
I have a terrible memory for names, to the point where I can be introduced to someone and have forgotten their name a few moments later. Is there an explanation?
We put this to Dr Dr Bernhard Staresina, from the MRC Brain Science and Cognition Unit in Cambridge...
Bernhard: My name is Dr Bernhard Staresina and I investigate the mechanisms of human memory at the MRC Cognition Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge. Names are quite arbitrary and abstract labels. So, itís very challenging to link a person and a name in any meaningful way. This is a problem because we know from research that new information is much better learned if it can be integrated into a pre-existing knowledge, also known as schema. For example, if youíre an expert in wine and you're introduced to a new bottle of wine, it would be easier for you to remember say, the name and vintage of the wine than for a person who knows little about wines. And this is simply because you will automatically integrate a new wine into your internal wine database and make crosslinks to other wines you know. This act of embedding information to an existing schema is called semantic elaboration and thatís known to greatly boost our ability to remember new information.
memory-for-names is poorer than memory-for-faces, as the latter is hardwired in the brain,
The tricks to remember names sort of illiustrate the problem remembering them in the first place. They don't seem connected to the person in any meaningful way, and lots of other people also have that name. But one thing I've noticed is after years of living in a big city where I'd meet lots of people I knew I'd probably never see again, I got worse at remembering names, and when I moved to a small town, I really had to really force myself to pay attention. cheryl j, Wed, 18th Apr 2012
And it's not just people's names, it's nouns in general: doodad, doohickey, gadget, gizmo, thingamabob, thingamajig, whatchamacallit, whatshisname, whosie-whatsit, widget, etc. We don't have nearly as much trouble remembering an action (verb), characteristic (adjective), and other parts of speech. Lmnre, Fri, 20th Apr 2012
My first visit to this site, and I'm intrigued. I do have a theory to why modern common names tends to give us trouble.
As a lowly engineer I won't attempt to offer a scientific theory. But I can suggest a solution for an improvement: Training 8D
I would like to add one thought. Possibly the whole thing is a self fulfilling prophecy. We feel awkward if we can't remember a name. So name-remebering is tied to something awkward. And memory likes to store nice things only (at least mine) I had never problems remembering the horsepower of a sportscar or its name. Even if that consists of numbers mainly...
Most of the words you know were learned when you little, when your brain was biologically primed for learning language. The name you learned last week wasn't. That isnt the entire explanation of course, but I know that I can remember the names of kids in my second grade class better than a lot of people I went to university with or met recently. And the meaning of words, as Dr Staresina explained above is associated with some kind of meaningful context,where as whether or not a person is named Amy or Sue seems arbitrary. And with words often there are clues to meaning from words that have a similar derivations. I was reading this book about the history of Islam and it was frustrating trying to remember any of the terms (or names) used because the words just didnt sound like anything familiar in English.