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How to Actually Remember People's Names

•, Lisa Kanarek

Almost three years ago, my husband and I moved to a new neighborhood. One of the first people we met was a teacher who lives six doors away. Each time I see her walking her two dogs, she waves and says, "Hi, Lisa." I smile, wave back, and say, "How's it going?" or "What's new?" After engaging in this almost daily ritual for so long, I'm too embarrassed to tell her I can't remember her name.

I doubt I'll ever become a "super-recognizer," someone with exceptional face recognition abilities. Still, I set out to learn ways to improve name recall with the help of two experts: a neurosurgeon and a world record holder in memory.

You Know the Face, Why Not the Name?

Studies like this one, from the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, suggest that we're better at remembering names than faces. In my case, the opposite is true. I'll recognize a face, but their name escapes me. It turns out that one of the reasons is I'm not giving my brain a chance to process the information.

"The hippocampus is key to our ability to take two things that are not associated in our minds and put them together," says Dr. Bradley Lega, associate professor of neurological surgery at UT Southwestern/Texas Health Resources in Dallas. When you meet someone whose name and face aren't previously associated in your mind, your hippocampus plays an important role in putting these things together into a single memory. That gives you the ability to know how to address the person. The good news: Familiar names no longer depend on your hippocampus.

Identify Why It's So Difficult to Retrieve Names

When you meet someone, you may be focused on impressing the person with your skill and expertise rather than learning more about them. You introduce yourselves and shake hands or fist bump. But when you pass the person again at the event, why do you draw a blank?

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