I’m a psychologist – here’s what it really means if you can never remember people’s names

JAMES, Jack, Paul, Dave, it must be Dave.

It's likely many of us have been in that awkward situation where we can't remember someone's name.

If 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 booze is involved.

But when it's something you do all the time, it could become problematic.

For the person on the other side, it might feel as though they are not worthy of you remembering them.

That, is, of course not the case, and one study revealed what it really means when you can't remember someone's name.

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Experts at MacEwan University said that if you constantly forget and don't make any effort to memorise names, then you could be a narcissist.

People who have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) usually have an inflated sense of self.

Those with this trait are often afraid of being wrong or ridiculed and will often lack empathy, be self centred and won't have much consideration for others.

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

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

To put this theory to the test, the psychologists did a range of experiments to see how narcissists responded to different environments.

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

There were a range of objects, with the researchers including things like expensive cars – to see whether what is usually associated with success, such as wealth – made a difference to the narcissists.

They found that people high in narcissism showed consistent recognition memory problems across the board.

Experts also tasked the narcissists with a lecture over zoom, where they were confronted with other people.

At the end they were asked about those in the lecture and the contents of the talk.

What are the traits of narcissistic personality disorder?

According to the Mayo Clinic, sufferers can:

  • Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration
  • Expect to be recognised as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerate achievements and talents
  • Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
  • Monopolise conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
  • Take advantage of others to get what they want
  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognise the needs and feelings of others
  • Be envious of others and believe others envy them
  • Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious

They found that because these people spent the majority of time thinking about themselves, they struggled to absorb any 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 doesn’t remember their name but not be able to put themselves in the places of the people who they've treated in this seemingly dismissive manner."

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

This, she wrote in Psychology Today, is because you shouldn't take it personally when someone doesn't remember your name, as it is part of their personality, not yours.

Dr Whitbourne added: "You may be a person who has trouble associating names with faces for reasons having nothing to do with narcissism.

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"Names may fly out of your head the minute you meet new people because you feel anxious or concerned about the impression that you're making on others.

"The study, reinforces the well-known principle in cognitive psychology that to remember something, you have to pay attention to it in the first place".

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