You’re about to begin a job interview, and as you’re being introduced to your potential supervisor, her name flies completely out of your mind. Or an old classmate greets you enthusiastically on the street, but you can’t place him until it’s too late. Sound familiar?
Recent studies shed light on why such memory blips happen—and how to avoid them. To better retain names and faces, try the following techniques:
FOCUS ON THE EYES Apart from a few wrinkles around the edges, people’s eyes don’t change that much as they age. If years pass between meetings, you’ll be less thrown off by shifts in hair, clothing, body shape, and height if you check the eyes.
ADD MEANING Invent strong—even oddball—connections between a person’s name and face. Think of what the name reminds you of (“Tina” might turn into “tea”), and (in your mind) attach that association to the person’s face.
PLAN AHEAD People are better at remembering names when they see them written down in advance, one study found. While that won’t help for unexpected encounters, it can be a good strategy for classes, interviews, and parties with a public invitation list.
PRACTISE AT HOME Quizzing yourself on celebrity names is a low-risk way to enhance your face-memory skills. While watching movies or TV shows, work on forming name-and-face associations with people whose feelings you couldn’t possibly hurt.
RELAX When you’re stressed, your body’s endocrine system releases cortisol, which can erase all sorts of memories—including (and perhaps especially) the type of memory involved in recalling names.