Comment on Ed Balls' memory lapse: Dr Phil Beaman says it could have been a sign of tiredness and pressure
Release Date 04 February 2015
What causes short-term memory lapses and who are most at risk? Dr Phil Beaman, Associate Professor of Cognitive Science and memory expert from the University of Reading, explains.
"Everyone has had the frustrating experience of forgetting someone's name while remembering practically everything else about them.
"This ‘tip-of-the-tongue' phenomenon can increase with age and is likely to be worse when tired or under stress - both of which may well apply to a leading politician giving a high-profile interview at the start of an election campaign. Don't be surprised if we see one or two more red-faced MPs searching for the right word before the 7th May.
"It is usually short-lived because you can generally use the information you do recall to cue the missing name. However names are particularly problematic because they are generally the last information about a person to be retrieved when you recognise their face. And unlike much other information, the relationship between a face and a name can be fairly arbitrary and could be shared by more than one individual - about half the population could be ‘Bill' for example.
"The best way to try and remember more quickly would be to ‘prime' yourself - thinking of all the information you can remember about the person. Also sounding out different initial letters to see which, if any of them, prompt the rest of the name will help. However this will all take a few seconds which, even if successful, would be enough to make any politician look less than fluent and maybe sound a little silly.
"Face recognition seems to occur in an area called the fusiform gyrus - the relationship between faces and this brain region is sufficiently strong that some have nicknamed it the fusiform face area (FFA) but failure to recall a name is more likely to be associated with the language system."