Why is it difficult to put names to faces?



Two experiments tested the hypothesis that recall of names would be more difficult than recall of other personal identity information because names are meaningless and lack semantic associations. In both experiments subjects were shown photographs of 12 unfamiliar faces and asked to learn information about each person. Three types of information were supplied: names, occupations and possessions. Experiment 1 manipulated the meaningfulness of possessions. Recall of names was no better than recall of meaningless non-word possessions and poorer than recall of meaningful possessions or meaningful occupations. Experiment 2 varied the meaningfulness of names and occupations, and showed that, when names were meaningless, name recall was inferior, but if names were meaningful and occupations were meaningless, the deficit in name recall disappeared. Conditional dependencies between recall of different types of information showed that occupations were normally accessed before either names or possessions, but when meaning was manipulated, meaningful items were accessed before meaningless ones.