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Remembering names

February 5, 2013

I have always been hopeless at remembering names and it certainly seems to get worse with age. So embarrassing sometimes!

However….. I have surprised even myself recently. I am about to re-enter the workforce (yes, the paid workforce) and will be teaching a small group of adults over 4 weeks. So remembering their names and the names of things and people that I will be talking about will be a real challenge…..

IPad drawing and painting: art, technology and memory load

Japanese Bridge by Monet

Imagine if Monet had an iPad!

My re-entry into the workforce will entail  meeting new people (and remembering their names), while teaching and relating  the processes of drawing and painting in the real world to the technological requirements of appropriate software for the iPad. Digital art in the virtual world  is a different ball game altogether from paint and canvas: however I hope to provide some skills to a small group of people so that they feel they can draw and paint without all the paraphernalia that generally goes with it. No mess and clutter and great entertainment or even therapy sometimes!

Given the level of complexity, and taking memory load into consideration, I will resort to some printed and some virtual materials as clear visual prompts both for myself and the group, which should (I hope) keep my memory fairly fluent and clear.

Most of us are especially hopeless at remembering names

A recent article in the BPS journal gave me some comfort

 “With  the exception of memory champs and their fancy mnemonics, plenty of research shows that most of the rest of us are especially hopeless at remembering people’s names, as compared with other items of information, such as professions. It is the arbitrary nature of names that makes things difficult …that we cannot embed them in a web of meaningful connections.”

Boost your memory for names by making a game of it

The researchers suggest that you should turn the task of memorising names into a game.

It would work like this:- I would award myself points for remembering the name of the boss, the receptionist, the number of males/females in the group. Ten points for example for recalling the name of the boss and receptionist, 8 points for example for recalling the names of the oldest or most talkative  persons and 5 points for the remainder, or the one wearing red etc. The new research suggests that incentivising the memory challenge in this way will give me a far better chance of recalling at least the most important names. This could prove handy, helping you feel better in future meetings!!

The results of the research showed that participants did a superior job at remembering high value (10-point) names, than low value names (33 per cent vs. 21 per cent). It’s as if the extra incentive prompted participants to go to greater lengths to process the names and encode them more deeply. I seem to be able to  remember what people do, i.e. their job, and what they look like, but not their name… this may help.

But the main message of the researchers remains upbeat: “Although names are difficult to remember,” they concluded, “actions can be taken to facilitate their recall.”

Festini, S., Hartley, A., Tauber, S., and Rhodes, M. (2012). Assigned value improves memory of proper names. Memory, 1-11 DOI:

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