Re­mem­ber my name: when recog­nis­ing 5,000 faces isn't enough

The Guardian Australia - - Science - Martin Be­lam

Sci­en­tists from the Uni­ver­sity of York have claimed that hu­mans can recog­nise and mem­o­rise 5,000 faces – mak­ing those oc­ca­sions where you can’t quite place or name some­one even more ex­cru­ci­at­ing. Here is the mod­ern eti­quette for nav­i­gat­ing this so­cial night­mare:

Pre-empt the prob­lem with a rein­tro­duc­tion

The Flor­ida-based mod­ern man­ners ex­pert Mar­alee McKee sug­gests, es­pe­cially when meet­ing peo­ple for the sec­ond time, rein­tro­duc­ing your­self with a bit of con­text: “Hi, I’m Jodie. We met at that event in Sh­effield.” This ap­proach re­lies on you be­ing able to re­mem­ber where you met, al­though you could al­ways give your job ti­tle or place of work in­stead. The key point is it puts you on the front foot, giv­ing the other per­son a strong cue to re­ply “Hi, I’m Bradley, it’s lovely to meet you again, Jodie.” Job done for both of you. Fish for ex­tra in­for­ma­tion

Once a con­ver­sa­tion is go­ing, open ques­tions such as: “It seems like ages since I last saw you. When was it?” or “How’s work go­ing? Weren’t you think­ing about chang­ing jobs last time I saw you?” may elicit vi­tal clues as to who you are talk­ing to, help­ing your brain with a bit of ex­tra con­text.

So­cial me­dia: friend and foe

The smart­phone era has in­creased the risks that peo­ple might recog­nise each other from so­cial me­dia, but then one of them re­alises they don’t know the other one that well – or, in­deed, at all. But there is an up­side. If you can crow­bar a: “What’s your In­sta­gram name again?” into con­ver­sa­tion, then sur­rep­ti­tiously look them up on your phone, you can later ca­su­ally drop their name, oc­cu­pa­tion or fam­ily de­tails into con­ver­sa­tion, as if you knew it all along. Don’t worry about the mis­fires

Five thou­sand faces might sound a lot, but your brain is li­able to be filled with TV and film stars, ath­letes, politi­cians and pub­lic fig­ures. Who hasn’t qui­etly said, “Hi” and nod­ded in recog­ni­tion at some­one in the street, only to re­alise af­ter­wards that you have just said hello to some­body you recog­nised from the TV? The eti­quette for this is: don’t worry. It must hap­pen to them all the time – and fa­mous peo­ple have the re­verse prob­lem, iden­ti­fy­ing which of these ran­dom peo­ple say­ing hello to them is gen­uinely an ac­quain­tance they should re­spond to.

Just be up­front about it

It’s not ter­ri­bly Bri­tish, but some­times we just have to face up to it like grownups and say: “I’m ter­ri­bly sorry, I ap­pear to have for­got­ten your name.”

That em­bar­rass­ing mo­ment – when you can’t re­call some­one’s name. Pho­to­graph: Fab­rice Ler­ouge/Getty Im­ages/Onoky

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