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Remembering names: a naturalistic experiment

February 24, 2013

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my appalling inability to remember names. This week I start teaching  and with that in mind I determined to see if my memory for names could be substantially improved …..and then test it out in the real world. A naturalistic experiment handed to me on a plate (even if n=1!)

The Posit science Brain Training Program: remembering names.

By chance I discovered that Posit Science Brain HQ had an iPad app available at the App Store and it is free to download! It gives you just the flavour of their more expanded Brain Training program available for computer.  There are three units for the iPad, “Beginner’s Brain Challenge”, “Alertness Boost “and “Visual acuity”. But these are not what I need at the moment …. what I really need is very specific……is there a training component to help me remember  names? At the gym last week a new student on placement introduced himself to me, and as usual, after the to-ing and fro-ing of the conversation I had completely forgotten in a minute that he was called Chris. I could recall his face, how long he was going to be on placement, his university etc. but not his name….. I had to ask again and then rehearse it!

Training to remembering names: sharpening the brain structures to remember informationbrainHQ

Having subscribed to the new online Posit Science Brain HQ some time ago (but not got round to using it), I searched through the units and found a “People Skills” unit, and sure enough there is one sub-unit which trains remembering names, facts about people etc. The “People Skills” unit has several facets at various stages of difficulty directed towards components of social interaction. They are

designed to speed up and sharpen the brain structures responsible for processing, storing, and remembering information that comes in handy in the social situations we all face every day.”

So I logged in and started.

What happened was difficult to describe. I was so bad at remembering any detailed facts at all that I kept having gongs every time. The unit presents one face at a time and three facts to associate with it: name, place and family facts. The latter two are changed as you progress. You are then assessed by being asked to remember which fact is correct for which face. Sounds simple? Not for me!

BRAIN STRAIN: the need for attention

Recall and recognition are very different memory skills. Initially I found I was able to eliminate wrong answers from the multiple choice to get to the correct one. But it does not work that way in real life…What was astonishing was the strain! I felt, above all, that my brain’s attention mechanism (that crucial component) was being dragged kicking and screaming into use.  The feeling of complete focus, the narrow spotlight, and the hard and rusty search for the right answer was exhausting after a short time. If nothing else it taught me that if I want to remember names and detailed facts I have to be “in the moment” and intensely so!.

Progress after much repetitive practice

My score was only 2 and then 3 names/people after many repetitions. I shall certainly continue training this week, trying to move on to Stage 2. However as I woke up this morning I found I could recall five faces and matching names easily and also some of the facts about them……

My naturalistic experiment begins in situ this week when I meet up with a group of new people. The issue of transfer of training to the natural environment has been a constant problem for training programs, so, given high motivation and a great opportunity….. we shall see………

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Danny morse permalink
    February 25, 2013 3:30 pm

    Brilliant. My ‘new’ job requires lots of new names and faces

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