Study shows that remembering other people's names can be learned easily in a game

June 24, 2000

Game helped people remember names after periods of 30 minutes, two weeks and 11 months

WASHINGTON -- Learning new names is difficult for many people and forgetting them can lead to embarrassing situations. A new study by two British psychologists finds that the name game, a method for introducing group members that is based on the principles of retrieval practice, can improve people's remembering one another's names immediately after the game is played and up to almost a year afterward. The study is published in the June issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, a journal of the American Psychological Association (APA).

In its simplest form, the name game involves the first member of the group announcing his or her full name. Then the second member of the group repeats the first person's name and adds his or her own, the third person says the names of the first and second person and adds his or her own, and so on around the group. To keep the first person active in the process, the group leader announces about halfway through the group that the first person in the group is expected to recall all of the names of the members of the group once every person in the group gets their turn.

Study authors Peter E. Morris, Ph.D., of Lancaster University, Lancaster, England, and Catherine O. Fritz, Ph.D., of Bolton Institute, Bolton, England, conducted two experiments using college students. The first experiment was designed to compare two versions of the name game, the simple version and an elaborate version in which group members say not only their first and last names but also include some term that has relevance to them. For example, a group member might say "swimming" because they like swimming. The group members then try to recall these qualifying terms as well as the names of those in the group. Evaluation of those students that used the name game were compared with the results of another procedure that is often used by group leaders to introduce members to one another that involves members of the group dividing into pairs to discover details about each other and then announcing the details to the whole group. Results of the first experiment show that participants involved in the two versions of the name game were much better at remembering one another's names after 30 minutes, two weeks and 11 months than those who used the other technique. The elaborate name game did not produce any better recall than did the simple name game.

The second experiment was designed to replicate the name game conditions of the first experiment but to provide a comparison condition that matched the name game in the number of times that the names were heard by the students as well as the order in which the names were spoken. In this experiment, the leader wrote the first student's name on the board and read it aloud; then the next name was added, and both the first and second names were read aloud by the leader. The third name was added, and, again, all three names were read aloud by the leader. This process continued for the entire group. The results of this experiment show that the two versions of the name game were superior and demonstrated that the contribution of the name game is not merely the result of name repetitions. A vital ingredient, according to the authors, is the active participation of the students in retrieving the names during the game.

Research shows other methods for improving memory can be effective, such as those that incorporate mental images, linking the person's name with a prominent aspect of his or her face. However, these methods can require a lot of effort in problem solving and imagination.

"The results of these experiments," according to the authors, "demonstrate a useful technique for learning names that does not require effortful or novel mnemonic techniques and that can be adopted almost anywhere that a new group of moderate size would benefit from getting to know the names of other members." They add that the name game can be used comfortably with groups of up to 11 members; larger groups may find the procedure too time consuming.
Article: "The Name Game: Using Retrieval Practice to Improve the Learning of Names," Peter E. Morris, Ph.D., Lancaster University, Lancaster, England, and Catherine O. Fritz, Ph.D., Bolton Institute, Bolton, England; Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Vol. 6, No. 2.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office or after June 16 at

Lead author Peter E. Morris, Ph.D., can be reached by e-mail at: or by telephone at Lancaster University at 44-1524-93885. He and co-author Catherine O. Fritz, Ph.D., can best be reached near the release embargo date at their home number: 44-1524-33420 (British Summer Time is 5 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern time and 8 hours ahead of U.S. Pacific time).

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 159,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 59 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

American Psychological Association

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