Remind me of your face; I already know your name

The “tell-me-who-you-are-again” conundrum is the exact opposite of what you think – we’re worse recognizing faces than recalling names.

You’re at a networking event, looking into a familiar face – and forgetting their name. “I’m sorry, remind me of your name again? I’m so bad with them!” you apologize.

As T.E. Lawrence famously said in “Lawrence of Arabia, “My name is for my friends. None of my friends is a murderer!” But that that wouldn’t be appropriate for an after-work mixer.

Anyway, you may not be as forgetful with names as you are with faces – researchers from the University of York have found in a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology that the “tell-me-who-you-are-again” conundrum is the exact opposite of what you think – we’re worse recognizing faces than recalling names.

“Our study suggests that, while many people may be bad at remembering names, they are likely to be even worse at remembering faces,” says Dr. Rob Jenkins, from the Department of Psychology at the University of York, in a release.

Faces and names

The researchers ran different experiments on students, testing them on images of people matched with names, which they were told to recall the best they could.

In one experiment, researchers tested on recognition for faces and names both together and separately. The results showed better recognition for names than faces in both that experiment and a similar one after it. Facial recognition rates came in at 64 percent, compared to name recognition at 83 percent.

An experiment showing familiar faces – celebrities – still had names winning out very slightly over faces.

So while you still might struggle to come up with a name for a face at parties, congratulate yourself for even recognizing the face to begin with, since humans are apparently even worse at recognizing those that with recalling names.

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

Thank goodness for name tags.

Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.