I recognize your face but I can't remember your name: Is it because names are unique?


Department of Psychology, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4QG, UK


Burton & Bruce (1992), and Cohen (1990a), offer alternative accounts of the differences in ‘normal’ and neurologically impaired subjects' abilities to recall people's names and other pieces of biographical information. Cohen claims that the principal difference between names and other biographical information is in their relative meaningfulness, while Burton & Bruce argue that uniqueness is the crucial variable. As yet existing empirical evidence cannot be explained within the framework of either of these accounts, although the Burton & Bruce (1992) proposal has the advantage of being implemented as an interactive activation model. This paper describes the case of a patient who, following a stroke, retained the ability to access ‘unique’ semantic information for familiar people she is no longer able to name. It is argued that this pattern of performance provides difficulties for the Burton & Bruce model. However, it can be accounted for by Cohen's account, and a modified version of Burton & Bruce's model (Bruce, Burton & Walker, 1994).