Science can help you better remember people's names

Reading time: 2 min — Spotted on CNN

Whether at work, in your partner’s family, or even when we meet friends of friends, the moment when the wrong first name comes to mind is always embarrassing. Imagine if science could assist us in one of our tasks: that of memorizing first names more efficiently.

It is the subject of a study published in the journal Nature. Researchers at Northwestern University have found that playing recordings of the first names of individuals recently encountered during deep sleep helps anchor memories and therefore attach a face to a name.

L’ experience paid off: scientists found that people remembered an average of one and a half names more. “Our analysis has shown that when memories are reactivated during sleep, memory abilities may be enhanced after you wake up”, relates the author of the scientific work, Ken Paller. However, for patients whose sleep was disrupted at the time of memory reactivation, the results were not as conclusive.

An educational siesta
In his experience, Ken Paller and his team invited 40 people to take a nap. Before falling into the arms of Morpheus, the participants had time to watch 80 faces as well as the corresponding names: 40 of them were students of a Latin American history course and the 01 others of a course in Japanese story.

Connected to an EEG device, which records brain activity, the participants took a nap “ educational” . Meanwhile, loudspeakers in the dormitories softly played the names the guinea pigs had read before. To help their memories assimilate the names, traditional Japanese and Latin music was played. The researchers were then able to analyze the resulting brain activities, in particular the part called the hippocampus, which reacts to music.

When they wake up, people who have had longer periods of deep sleep had better memories. “When our participants woke up, they were relatively better at recognizing people’s faces and remembering their names – compared to remembering faces and names not reactivated during sleep”, explains the author of the study.

Nathan Whitmore, a PhD student who took part in the study, spoke in an interview with CNN: “This is an exciting new discovery about sleep, because it tells us that how information is reactivated during sleep to improve memory storage is linked to high-quality sleep.” Ken Paller and his team are now working on testing methods to make the experience doable at home. “However, there is not enough evidence to be sure of the magnitude of a possible gain”, he told the American media.