I’m a Psychologist – Here’s What It Really Means When You Can’t Remember People’s Names

JAMES, Jack, Paul, Dave… it has to be Dave, right?

Probably many of us have been in that awkward situation where we just can’t remember a person’s name.

Forgetting a person's name isn't usually intentional, but experts have said it could be because of your personality type


Forgetting a person’s name isn’t usually intentional, but experts have said it could be because of your personality typePhoto credit: Getty

When you’ve met a lot of people in a short space of time at a gathering like a wedding, you can be forgiven for losing track of a name or two, especially when it comes to alcohol.

But if it’s something you do all the time, it could become problematic.

The person on the other side might feel like they’re not worth remembering.

Of course, that’s not the case, and a study has shown what it really means when you can’t remember a person’s name.

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Experts at MacEwan University said if you keep forgetting names and don’t bother to remember names, then you could be a narcissist.

People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) typically have inflated self-esteem.

Those with this trait are often afraid of being wrong or making a fool of themselves, and often lack empathy, are self-centered, and don’t have much consideration for others.

The experts said these people will struggle to navigate social situations.

dr Miranda Giacomin said a narcissist’s lack of concern for others makes them worse at processing important information about them, such as their names.

To test this theory, the psychologists conducted a series of experiments to see how narcissists responded to different environments.

This included memory tasks that challenged them to look at different objects and faces.

There was a range of objects, including things like expensive cars, to see if what is usually associated with success, such as wealth, made a difference to the participants.

They found that people high in narcissism consistently showed consistent recognition memory problems.

Experts also commissioned the participants to give a lecture via Zoom, where they were confronted with other people.

At the end they were asked about the content of the lecture and the contents of the lecture.

What Are the Characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

According to the Mayo Clinic, sufferers can:

  • Do you have inflated self-esteem?
  • Have entitlement and demand constant, excessive admiration
  • Expect to be recognized as superior even with no accomplishments to justify it
  • Exaggerate achievements and talents
  • Engage in fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or the perfect partner
  • Believe that they are superior and can only associate with people who are just as special
  • Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people you see as inferior
  • Take advantage of others to get what they want
  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Be envious of others and believe that others envy you
  • Act arrogant or haughty and appear conceited, boastful, and overbearing

They found that because these people spent most of their time thinking about themselves, they had trouble absorbing information about those around them.

Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Susan Krauss Whitbourne explained: “These individuals may not like it when someone else does not remember their name, but they may not be able to put themselves in the shoes of the people who treated them in this seemingly dismissive way.”

She added that knowing that people who are narcissists have bad memories may not help you feel better about them, but it will help you feel better about yourself.

This, she wrote in Psychology Today, is because if someone doesn’t remember your name, you shouldn’t take it personally because it’s because of their personality, not yours.

dr Whitbourne added, “You may be a person who has trouble associating names with faces for reasons unrelated to narcissism.

“Names may fly out of your head when you meet new people because you are anxious or worried about the impression you are making on others.

“The study reinforces the well-known principle of cognitive psychology that in order to remember something, you first have to pay attention to it.”

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Sarah Y. Kim

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