Effects of age on the ability to remember common and rare proper names

S J Jones, P M Rabbitt

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    Difficulties in remembering proper nouns increase with age. One factor is that names are arbitrary labels. Another is that because many people share the same names, mutual discriminability between names is less than than that between other words. Discriminability between names may reduce as the number of acquaintances increases. Also, most people have both a first and a second name. These have to be learned as a pair, but they may be of unequal distinctiveness and so be unequally well remembered. An experiment was designed to evaluate the relative effects of distinctiveness of first and second names on free and cued recall. Subjects (aged 60-69 or 70-79 years, matched on Mill-Hill vocabulary score) were asked to remember one of four lists of 16 names. Each was presented four times. The names were either common, rare, or a combination of the two--a common first name with a rare surname, or vice versa. Subjects first freely recalled the names. They were next cued by either first name or surname to recall the remaining half of name pairs. Interactions between effects on recall of subjects' ages and of the relative distinctiveness of first and second names provide partial support for a model incorporating "relative distinctiveness" as a factor in failures of name recall in old age.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1001-14
    Number of pages14
    JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A: Human Experimental Psychology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 1994


    • Age Factors
    • Aged
    • Humans
    • Memory
    • Mental Recall
    • Middle Aged
    • Names


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