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The science of old mate: Forgetting people’s names has actual consequences


Ever forget someone’s name? Well, according to the findings of a new study, it’s rather serious. That, and don’t ever tell the truth. Ever.



Do you find yourself always forgetting someone’s name? No biggie, right? Well, it turns out that, no, studies have found that forgetting a person’s name can be rather impactful indeed.

We’re all guilty of it. Some of us are smart about it, executing strategies like making a friend introduce themselves to the person in question. But others can be brutal in a misguided attempt at being honest. We say, “Sorry, but I have forgotten your name.”


After researching how people in social circles respond to someone forgetting their name, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland has come to believe that honesty is the worst policy. The university ran four experiments to determine the impact on the person whose name was forgotten.

The study found that people will often make excuses for the person who forgot their names, saying they are older and have poor memory, or suggesting the person is so busy or that they meet too many people. Despite the idea that people don’t want to feel like they are forgettable, the research believes that someone forgetting their name can have an impact on their sense of belonging.

The research also found that for many who would forget someone’s name, they feared it would insult the other person; and the study also found that it absolutely does. The message, the research found, was that it meant to the other person that they didn’t matter, and were forgettable; they felt “less close” to the person who forgot them even if the person was family.

Other research has found that sometimes the reason we forget someone’s name is that the name isn’t interesting (ouch) or we know many people with the same name. Despite this, rare names are also harder to recall and therefore people are likely to forget them too. Not good. But we aren’t trying to be rude, we just have crowded brains and unfortunately, many people underestimate how hard it is to recall names so they may not go to the efforts required to use their memories effectively.

So how do we avoid being a jerk and start to remember the names and faces of people we come across in real life?

According to researchers from the University of Waterloo, you just need to say the person’s name out loud when you meet.

The research found that when people read words to themselves, they were less likely to remember them than if they spoke those words out loud.

Other great ways to remember a person’s name include asking them a question about their lives the moment you meet them. By asking a question, you are aligning their name with a memory associated with a story inside your brain, increasing your probability of remembering their name when you see them again.

It is also suggested that you repeat the person’s name when you meet them, and again when you are saying goodbye to them.

Whatever method you take to try to remember someone’s name, the reality is that while you may only feel a bit awkward when you forget someone’s name, it could ignite a mini existential crisis in them when you don’t make that effort. It’s not just a professional no-no, but a personal one as well.



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