Peter, Paul, Kylie … David! Why we forget family members’ names

Fiona Kumfor, Neuroscience Research Australia and Stephanie Wong, Neuroscience Research Australia

Have you ever been called somebody else’s name? How often has your own mother forgotten your name? Does she ever cycle through the names of each of your siblings, and perhaps even the family pet, before getting to yours?

Don’t worry, it’s probably not because she loves them more than you.

According to researchers at Duke University, misnaming is a common cognitive slip-up. In fact, it seems to occur most frequently between family members and close friends.

The researchers examined survey data from more than 1,700 participants, who were either undergraduate students or older individuals from the community. Regardless of age, those who had been misnamed reported being misnamed by someone they knew well. Likewise, those who had misnamed someone reported doing so to a familiar person.

Misnaming usually occurs within the same semantic category. So, family members are misnamed with another family member’s name and friends are misnamed with another friend’s name.

Names are also more likely to be confused when they share phonetic similarities. For example, misnaming will potentially occur more often if you have children named Dan and Stan.

Notably, the study found misnaming has little to do with physical similarity – which is certainly reassuring if you have ever been called by the dog’s name.

A method to the madness

The finding that we often mix up names that are semantically and phonetically related, rather than at random, gives insights into the way our memories for names are organised in the brain.

The brain tends to group names that are related. They can be related because they belong to a similar semantic category (e.g. family members, school friends, work friends). Or, they can be related because they sound alike (e.g., names starting with “S”).

According to network theories of language, each individual word is linked to other words that share similar conceptual properties. For example, your brother’s name, Paul, might be linked to your other siblings’ names (Kylie, David), as well as other names that start with “P” (Peter).

Because these names share links and are stored in close proximity in the brain, saying one name may also bring to mind other semantically or phonetically similar names. This maximises efficiency, as the brain is able to retrieve closely related information faster.

What happens when these processes break down?

Like knowledge about other types of cognitive abilities, much has been gained from studying people where the ability has been disrupted due to damage in the brain.

Complex pathways in the brain are working to retrieve stored information on faces and names.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Our research group has a special interest in studying individuals with semantic dementia. Like other types of dementia, semantic dementia is caused by the abnormal accumulation of proteins in the brain. This ultimately leads to cell death and shrinkage of different brain regions.

In semantic dementia, the anterior temporal lobe, a part of the brain situated behind the ear, is most affected.

Individuals with semantic dementia, as the name suggests, show a progressive loss of semantic knowledge (our knowledge about facts, places, things and names). One of the earliest symptoms in semantic dementia is difficulty in naming things.

Naming difficulties in semantic dementia

People with semantic dementia show very specific types of naming errors. For example, they may call a “zebra” a “horse”, or an “animal”. This suggests that as semantic knowledge is lost, our understanding of the world becomes less specific and more generalised.

People with semantic dementia also have difficulty in recognising and naming people. This depends on which side of the brain is more affected.

People with semantic dementia who have more atrophy/shrinkage in the left hemisphere of the brain commonly struggle to recognise names. In contrast, those with greater atrophy in the right hemisphere have more trouble recognising people’s faces.

This kind of research gives us important insights into how names are represented in the brain.

It’s harder than it looks

The ability to recognise someone and call them by their correct name is incredibly complex, even though it feels like second nature to us.

Calling a person by their correct name requires integration of information across both hemispheres of the brain to connect face and name knowledge in mere milliseconds.

Understanding how this process goes wrong – whether through misnaming someone, struggling to say that word on the tip of your tongue, or switching around two words or sounds – gives us important insights into how our brain stores and retrieves the seemingly endless number of names and faces we know.

What does this mean for those of us who frequently misname our family and friends? Based on what we know about how names are organised in the brain, this common cognitive slip-up could be the brain’s way of trying to make our life easier, rather than a sign of something sinister.

So next time you say the wrong name, spare a moment to consider how challenging this ability is and how much work our brains do in order for us to call someone by their name.

The Conversation

Fiona Kumfor, Postdoctoral fellow, Neuroscience Research Australia and Stephanie Wong, PhD Student, Neuroscience Research Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

150 Questions

The link below is to an article that looks at 150 questions to ask family members about their lives.

For more visit:
http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865595932/Genealogy-150-questions-to-ask-family-members-about-their-lives.html

Website: Family iBoard

I have over the years tried to find a site that could be useful for housing something of a private family social network. They have usually proved to be less than suitable. It will probably be something I have another shot at as I get back into the family history research and work on the website again.

The site I’m probably going to look into a bit with the hope that it may assist in accomplishing the private social network side of things is Family iBoard. I only recently became aware of it, so I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to investigate at this stage. However, the article linked to below in which the site was reviewed by Mashable, does fill me with a lot of hope. The only real issue will be getting family members to join, especially given the fees involved. But at roughly $8.00 a year, it’s hardly a huge fee and could prove very useful.

What do others think of the idea? I’d be keen to know. It really seems like a very good site for this sort of thing.

View the Mashable article at:
 http://mashable.com/2012/09/07/family-iboard/

Tracing our History Chat Chanels are Open

Tracing our History is developing a set of tools for enhancing the ability of family members to trace our history together in a collaborative and interactive manner. To do this I am setting up channels and groups within various social networks and web applications. All of these tools and sites provide a plethora of free opportunities for family members to help make our family research more interesting, exciting and useful for all. Please consider joining one or all of these sites listed on the ‘Research Collaboration Features’ page at Tracing our History.

http://tracingourhistory.com/collaboration.html

I have now set up two real time chat/file sharing possibilities via the collaboration page, with two different social networking sites (Pip.io and Micromobs). To get involved with either site or both you will need to join the site and the channel that I have set up (on each of the sites). You can find both sites via the link above or go directly to Pip.io and/or Micromobs at:

The Tracing our History channel at Pip.io can be found via the link below:
http://pip.io/#/channel/tracingourhistory

The Tracing our History ‘mob’ at Micromobs can be found via the link below:
http://micromobs.com/mob/3e663ac1686f86d36c9cb4d23da5cd77

Bagg/s and Jenkinson Family Trees Now Online

Two more family trees are now accessible on the Tracing our History website. These are the Bagg/s and Jenkinson family trees.

A username and password are required to view the family trees hosted on the site. These are issued to family members who are able to show their relationship to the family.

These trees can be found via the link below:
http://tracingourhistory.com/secure/tree.html

Lilley Family Tree Now Online

The first of a number of family trees associated with my family is now accessible via the Tracing our History website. A username and password are required to view the family trees hosted on the site. These are issued to family members who are able to show their relationship to the family.

The first tree posted on the site is that of the Lilley family, starting with William Lilley (Born 1624) and follows his descendants. The tree can be found via the link below:
http://tracingourhistory.com/secure/tree.html

Wow – Great New Features in Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader

As most people probably know, a PDF reader is required to read PDF files. Usually you would use Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader for that. Now there is even more reason to use Adobe’s piece of software for doing just that. Adobe has just released version X of the software and it has some massive improvements – improvements that will be of great help to family members at Tracing our History.

The following are the ‘new’ features of version X of Acrobat PDF Reader:

  • Read, search and share PDF files
  • Convert to PDF
  • Export and edit PDF files
  • Add rich media to PDF files
  • Combine files from multiple applications
  • Increase productivity and process consistency
  • Streamline document reviews
  • Collect data with fillable PDF forms
  • Protect PDF files and content
  • Comply with PDF and accessibility standards

OK, that all sounds very confusing I guess – it does a bit to me also. Now this is how I see at least some of the improvements and they are what I’ve been looking for for a long time.:

  • There is the ability now to highlight text within a PDF file
  • There is the ability to add a note to what is highlighted and make comments. If the PDF file is sent to someone else to look at it can be opened and comments can be made in reply to what you have written. This makes a PDF file very collaborative in research.
  • There is the ability to place sticky notes onto the file – just as you would with a book or magazine. Again, these can be replied to or edited.
  • Obviously the PDF file can be shared with others for their comments and be passed backward and forwards.
  • The PDF file can also be sent to someone else right in the reader software by email or via Adobe Online.

So they are just some of the uses of version X, but they are brilliant for genealogy research.

To get Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader X visit:
http://www.adobe-new-downloads.com/

Latest Site News

Tracing our History is now very close to completing its move to the new domain http://tracingourhistory.com . In fact I will soon be removing most of the content from the old site and simply leaving a redirection URL on the main page. There are just a few more things to do before I can make the move complete.

I have now got the ‘history’ section of the site up and running – currently there are a few links not working quite right, but it is very close to being finished – with the exception of the local history part of the page (but that won’t be too long).

http://tracingourhistory.com/history.html

I have issued 8 usernames and passwords to the private/secure section of the site, allowing these family members access to the family history book and eventually the tree and various other files that will be stored there. So things are moving along nicely I think.

Once the site is fully operational my attention will turn to work on headstones/cemeteries and trying to get a better system up on the site for those. I am also continuing to work away at the family history database and getting all of that information sorted out properly.

Tracing our History: Front Page Updated

I have been doing a bit of work on the front page of the site and it has now changed a fair bit, with links to various interactive/collaborative sites that enhance Tracing our History. If family members are keen to collaborate and share our family history there are plenty of options and tools now available for that, as well as simply keeping in touch. I think there are some really useful resources there now and hopefully they will continue to be added to.

I still haven’t got the book or tree back online, but that is in the works. More to come soon.

Visit the site at:
http://particularbaptist.com/matthewshistory/index.html