I can't remember names

Posted by Kromey at 5:41pm Jan 29 '10
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I usually find it very hard to remember the names of people that I meet, yet I'm very good at remembering their faces and in most cases can even remember when, where, and how we met (up to a couple years after that first meeting at least).

I was thinking about that the other day, after my dad chided me for not remembering the name of the insurance agent I'd been working with most recently. I responded that I have a very hard time remembering names in general - why should an insurance agent be any different?

Anyway, this got my thinking - why should I have so much trouble remembering names? I don't have memory issues (although admittedly I don't have a great memory), yet names stick out time and again as suffering far more greatly in the abyss of my forgetfulness. Why?

I read the Bad Science blog a lot. One of the biggest themes is confirmation bias - the phenomenon where we, being human beings, have a tendency to ignore or explain away evidence that contradicts our preconceived notions while immediately latching onto and applauding evidence - even explaining away the weaknesses and flaws in such in order to strengthen it - that supports our ideas. Another theme that appears frequently in the blog - although far less often than confirmation bias - is apophenia, the ability of human beings to perceive random data as having patterns - examples include the Martian face and the Man in the Moon, as well as the famous Rorschach inkblot tests. (All of these examples are a type of apophenia called pareidolia, which also includes things like hearing a ringing phone in the random background noise of a shower.)

Anyway, that's a roundabout way of coming to this: Perhaps there's nothing inherent in me at all to explain why I'm bad with names - perhaps it's mental conditioning I've inadvertently imposed upon myself: I forget a couple of names once or twice, assume it's symptomatic, and each time I forget another name it reinforces this new belief that I can't remember names. Instances where I have remembered names are more-or-less ignored (or, ironically, simply forgotten), whereas times where I forget names are (ironically) remembered and thus serve to reinforce my own belief that I can't remember names.

I met Lacey, Honey, and Nicole last Friday night. I remember their names. In fact all night I was helping [private] and E remember them. But until I started thinking about this, making myself aware of probable confirmation bias and even possible apophenia, all that came to mind was the insurance agent who's name I can never seem to remember, despite having interacted with her on numerous occasions both in person and over the phone.

So what do you think, 4K? Is there anything to it when someone claims they can't remember names, or have we just conditioned ourselves to believe that, perhaps going to far as to make it true?
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