Study: People do not forget the sting of you not remembering them

“What’s your name again? Sorry, I don’t remember meeting!” When a colleague makes it clear that they do not remember us, we may outwardly say that we are totally perfectly fine with it, but inside, we are reeling from the blow. We do not forget the sting of being forgettable, a new study on “the psychological impact of being remembered or forgotten” finds.

This is how bad it hurts to feel forgotten

Forgetting someone’s name is certainly not the worst thing you can do to a colleague, but it does leave a lasting impression. Across a series of four experiments, psychologist Devin Ray and his colleagues at University of Aberdeen got people to talk about the experience of being forgotten by others. Participants said their most common experience was someone forgetting a personal detail (“The manager of the hotel where I am working forgot my name”) or past interactions (“My friends organized a night out, and forgot to ask me”).

These everyday interactions came off as potential slights. People’s interpersonal relationships got damaged. Being forgotten can be an isolating, depressing experience. People who were forgotten reported decreased senses of belonging and meaning in the world.

Participants could rationalize being forgotten with a good excuse like “She already met too many people in the last couple of days,” but they could not fully explain their hurt away. It is human to want to be known and recognized. When someone does not remember you, they are signaling in some small way that you do not matter.

“[Being forgotten] is an important and layered experience,” Devin Ray, one of the authors of the study, said. “It can lead to these ‘Funny, haha, I forgot your name at a party’ stories. But it can also lead to more serious, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe you did that’ crushing moments.”