You Can't Remember Names Because You're Not Paying Attention

It's your first day at a new job, and a hord of your new coworkers come up to greet you with outstretched hands. As they introduce themselves, the only things running through your head are reminders to stand up straight, smile, make eye contact, and give nice, firm handshakes. Great—you nailed your first impression. Now, what were their names? The reason you can't remember is called the next-in-line effect.

Why It's Important

When you're suddenly bombarded with new names, two things happen: you're too worried about yourself to pay attention to each name, and you don't have time to process your first coworker's name before you hear the second. Hence, the next-in-line effect. Remembering new information requires time and attention. When we simultaneously try to give information (our name) and take in information (each person's name), one of those tasks will likely fall by the wayside.

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Why People Are Talking About It

In a 1991 study, researchers at Texas Christian University asked participants to take turns speaking to the rest of a research group. When asked to recall what was said before it was their turn to speak, the participants were a little fuzzy. The researchers concluded that this wasn't because they had trouble recalling the information; instead, it was because they were too worried about what they were about to say to take in, or "encode," the information at all. Luckily, there's a fix: next time you hear new information like a stranger's name or the date of a Civil War battle, you should practice elaborative rehearsal. That is, relate the new information to something you already know. If you meet a new coworker named Cindy, for example, picture Cindy Crawford in your head before introducing yourself. This taps into your reliable long-term memory.

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Written by Curiosity Staff December 12, 2016

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