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Bad with names? People actually remember names better than faces

A new study from the University of York has revealed that people are actually better at remembering names than faces. The results of the research also suggest that we are asking too much of our brain when we give ourselves a hard time over forgetting someone’s name.

The brain relies on recognition to remember a person’s face and on recollection to remember a name, and humans are known to be much more skilled in their recall ability.

For the investigation, the researchers designed a test that could measure names against faces on a level playing field. The trial placed equal demands on the participants to remember faces and names in a game of recognition.

The study revealed that the individuals were consistently better at remembering names compared to recognizing faces. The test scores showed that participants remembered 83 percent of the names compared to 64 percent of the faces.

“Our study suggests that, while many people may be bad at remembering names, they are likely to be even worse at remembering faces,” said study co-author Dr. Rob Jenkins. “This will surprise many people as it contradicts our intuitive understanding.”

“Our life experiences with names and faces have misled us about how our minds work, but if we eliminate the double standards we are placing on memory, we start to see a different picture.”

When the researchers presented the faces and names of famous people, the participants scored about the same level in both categories.

The study demonstrated that people were particularly bad at recognizing unknown faces, yet even with faces and names that had been encountered before, they were still much better at recognizing names than faces.

“Knowing someone’s face, but not remembering their name is an everyday phenomenon,” said Dr. Jenkins.

“Our knee-jerk reaction to it is to say that names must be harder to memorise than faces, but researchers have never been able to come up with a convincing explanation as to why that might be. This study suggests a resolution to that problem by showing that it is actually a red herring in the first place.”

The study is published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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