Even the politest of people have a tendency to forget the name of someone they just met. Oftentimes, it feels like as soon as you’re introduced to someone, their name goes in one ear and out the other. It’s just an unfortunate setback of the human memory. But if you can still remember the lyrics to your favorite song from the ’80s, then why do you forget something as simple as a name?
Simply put, it’s usually because you just don’t care enough. “People are better at remembering things that they’re motivated to learn,” Charan Ranganath, the director of the Memory and Plasticity Program at the University of California in Davis, explained to Time. “Sometimes you are motivated to learn people’s names and other times it’s more of a passing thing and you don’t at the time think it’s important.”
However, apathy isn’t the only reason why you forget names. Since many people have the same name, your brain has to use a lot more context to remember a name versus a noun like “car” or “cheetah.” “We may know several Johns and several Nancys, for example,” Joshua Klapow, PhD and host of Kurre and Klapow, told Bustle. “If we hear a common name, it isn’t as salient and we are less likely to commit it to memory.”
Plus, you have to remember the names and the faces to whom they belong, which adds another layer to an already complex memory task. Sometimes, it’s a case of “you heard the name, but it didn’t commit to memory the way the person’s facial features, height, etc. did,” said Klapow.
And because of everything going on when you first meet someone, their name has a tendency to slip through the cracks. “When you’re introduced to people, you’re often busy sizing them up and thinking about what you’re going to say,” explained psychology professor and author Wayne Weiten. “With your attention diverted in this way, names go in one ear and out the other. You don’t remember them because they aren’t encoded for storage into memory.”
The last problem? In addition to our brain’s failure to encode, we often get cocky. According to Ranganath, “People are often overconfident, and they underestimate how hard it will be later on.”
“Try to recall the information immediately or soon after you learn it,” Ranganath said. “The act of actually testing yourself on the name will help you retain it better in the long term.” And for more tricks that will help your noggin, check out these 20 Simple Ways to Improve Your Memory.
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