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If You Love Someone, You’ve Probably Called Them By the Wrong Name Before

Science By
(Geoffrey Fairchild/Flickr)
(Geoffrey Fairchild/Flickr)


The next time your mom calls you one of your siblings’ names, don’t get mad. It’s a sign that she loves you, according to a new study published in Memory & Cognition.

The study, conducted by Rollins College cognitive scientist Samantha Deffler, found that mixing up names is a normal cognitive glitch, specifically related to how our brains categorize things.

NPR compares the brain’s categorization process to a series of folders, some of which store the names of family and friends. When someone calls a friend or relative by the wrong name, it’s usually the name of another friend or relative in the same folder.

So don’t worry, this isn’t a sign of impaired cognitive function. It’s just a filing error, usually made under stress. As UNC Chapel Hill cognitive scientist Neil Mulligan put it, when you address someone by name, “you’re activating not just their name, but competing names.” (Just make sure you’re calling out wrong names from the appropriate folder—otherwise, it could get ugly.)

Deffler’s survey, conducted with the help of Cassidy Fox, Christin Ogle, and senior researcher David Rubin, covered 1,700 men and women of varying ages. Not surprisingly, the group with the most instances of wrong name-calling is moms.

You can read Deffler’s full study by clicking here.

RealClearLife Staff