Even the greatest listeners can have trouble remembering a new acquaintance's name. It happens to the best of us, and for some reason, it's terribly embarrassing.
Luckily, science may have found a solution we can all use. In a study to be published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, researchers found that repetition is the key to making a piece of information stick. But it's not as simple as repeating a name to yourself or in your head. Your best bet is to say the name to someone else.
"We knew that repeating aloud was good for memory, but this is the first study to show that if it is done in a context of communication, the effect is greater in terms of information recall," Victor Boucher, a professor in the University of Montreal's Department of Linguistics and Translation and one of the study's lead authors, said in a statement. Recall refers to the act of retrieving or re-accessing a memory that has already been stored in the brain.
To conduct the study, the researchers had 44 French-speaking students read a series of words from a screen while wearing white noise-emitting headphones so they couldn't hear their own voices or any outside noises. The subjects performed four different kinds of actions while reading: repeating the words in their head, repeating them silently while moving their lips, repeating them out loud while looking at the screen and, lastly, repeating them aloud to another person.
The participants were then read a list of words and were asked to identify the ones they remembered saying themselves; the list included some words that were never shown to the students. The students recalled the words that they read to another person significantly better than the ones they read with the three other methods. It's telling that even though they couldn't hear themselves speak, the presence of another person made a difference.
"The simple fact of articulating without making a sound creates a sensorimotor link [a message that comes from one of our five senses and is processed by our brains] that increases our ability to remember, but if it is related to the functionality of speech, we remember even more," Boucher said.
There are other science-approved solutions for drawing a blank on someone's name: Try asking the person something about himself as soon as you meet him. This will give the other person a chance to speak, and your brain a chance to recognize who's speaking. It'll help anchor the name in your head.
In either instance, remember: You aren't "bad with names," you just haven't found the right trick yet.