Why do you look so familiar?

Why do you look so familiar?

A common characteristic of most succesful politicians is their ability to remember people's names and faces very well. They have to, as networking is very important to them.

While most of us are quite decent at remembering faces, but have a hard time at remembering names. Why?
Apparently, faces are very informative. Expressions, eye contact, mouth movements, these are all fundamental ways humans communicate. Facial features also reveal a lot about a person: eye color, hair color, bone structure, teeth arrangement; all things that can be used to recognize a person. So much so that the human brain has evolved several features to aid and enhance facial recognition and processing, such as pattern recognition and a general predisposition to pick out faces in random images.

Compared to all this, what does someone's name have to offer? In general, a name is just a couple of words,that you're informed belong to a specific face. For a random piece of conscious information to go from short-term memory to long-term memory, it usually has to be repeated and rehearsed.
If you wish to learn someone's name, the only guaranteed way to remember it is to rehearse it while it's still in your short-term memory.

Most people know dozens of names and don't find it takes considerable effort each time you need to learn a new one. This is because your memory associates the name you hear with the person you're interacting with, so a connection is formed in your brain between person and name. As you extend your interaction, more and more connections with the person and their name are formed, so conscious rehearsing isn't needed; it happens at a more subconscious level due to your prolonged experience of engaging with the person.

The brain has many strategies for making the most of short-term memory, and one of these is that if you are provided with a lot of details in one go, the brain's memory systems tend to emphasize the first and the last thing you hear, of which a person's name is mostly the first thing.

A difference between short- and long-term memory is that they both have different overall preferences for the type of information they process. Short-term memory is largely aural, focusing on processing information in the form of words and specific sounds. This is why you have an internal monologue, and think using sentences and language, rather than a series of images like a film. Someone's name is an example of aural information; you hear the words, and think of it in terms of the sounds that form them.

By contrast, long-term memory relies heavily on vision and the meaning of words, rather than the sounds that form them. So a rich visual stimulus, like, say, someone's face, is more likely to be remembered long term than some random aural stimulus, like an unfamiliar name.

By definition, a person's face and name are unrelated. But let's say you have stored both someone's name and face in your long-term memory. But, once yout need to access this information, combining both can prove difficult.
The brain is an immensely complex organ with an unbelievable amount of connections and links. Long-term memories are made up of connections or synapses. A single neuron can have tens of thousands of synapses with other neurons, and the brain has many billions of neurons, but these synapses mean there is a link between a specific memory and the more "executive" areas such as the frontal cortex that requires the information in the memory. These links are what allows the thinking parts of your brain to "get at" memories, so to speak.

The more connections a specific memory has, and the "stronger" (more active) the synapse is, the easier it is to access. People whom you have known all your life will occur in a great deal of memories, so it will always be at the forefront of your mind. Other people aren't, so remembering their names is going to be harder.

But if the brain has already stored someone's face and name, why do we still end up remembering one and not the other? This is because the brain has something of a two-tier memory system at work when it comes to retrieving memories, and this gives rise to a common yet infuriating sensation: recognizing someone, but not being able to remember how or why, or what their name is. This happens because the brain differentiates between familiarity and recall. Familiarity (or recognition) is when you encounter someone or something and you know you've done so before. But beyond that, you've got nothing; all you can say is this person/thing is already in your memories. Recall is when you can access the original memory of how and why you know this person; recognition is just flagging up the fact that the memory exists.

The brain simply tells you if you've encountered something before. Evolution-wise, anything that's familiar is something that didn't kill you, so you can concentrate on newer things that might. Given that a face provides more information than a name, faces are more likely to be "familiar."

Once you start talking with these persons, things tend to fall into place and recognition turns to full-on recall when the original memory is activated.
You've heard the phrase "it all came flooding back," or "an answer being on the tip of your tongue" before it suddenly occurs to you? That's what's happening here. The memory that caused all this recognition has now received enough stimulation and is finally activated, with everything falling into place.

Overall, faces are more memorable than names because they're more "tangible," whereas remembering someone's name is more likely to require full recall than simple recognition.

So, what are tricks to remember names better? If you meet someone for the first time, ask them to repeat their name and even spell it out, when it is not a familiar name. Then, upon engaging in a conversation with them, repeat their (first) name, whenever it feels natural to do so and ask whether they have an informal name too.
Then quietly make assocation between their names and their looks or occupation.
If you also have a hard time remembering faces, try to look at someone closely and memorize their strangest and most outstanding features, like having long ear lobes, a short nose or a tiny mouth.
Playing memory games in general will always help in training your memory.

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