Do you ever find yourself calling your kids by their siblings’ names? Have you ever blurted out the wrong friend’s name at a party?
If so, don’t worry. Your memory isn’t failing you and you’re not alone, according to a recent psychological study.
A group of psychologists studied 1,700 people (including men and women of different ages) and the results showed that misnaming people is quite common. The October 2016 study was published in “Memory & Cognition.”
“It’s a normal cognitive glitch,” Samantha Deffler, the lead researcher of the study, told National Public Radio.
Deffler explained that the brain’s “filing system” is behind the name mixups. Think of your brain like a big filing cabinet with many folders that store groups of information, such as names. These names are then organized by family groups or friend groups. When we are in a hurry to call out a name, our brain pulls the entire file out of the drawer and quickly goes through everything in that folder.
In other words, our brain’s speed in going through that list of names can cause us to call out the wrong name.
“As you are preparing to produce the utterance, you’re activating not just their name, but competing names,” Neil Mulligan, Ph.D, a psychology professor and cognitive scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told NPR. “You flick through the names of all your other children, stored in the family folder, and sometimes these competing names win.”
So, instead of calling your daughter Emma, you call her by her sister’s name, Olivia, instead. Whoops!
How common is this phenomenon?
Of the 1,700 people who participated in Deffler’s study, 51 percent reported they had been misidentified by someone. And, of that 51 percent, about 95 percent of the subjects said a family member called them by the wrong name.
Furthermore, of that group of people who had been misidentified, 55 percent said the they, too, had misnamed a family member and 41 percent reported misnaming a friend.
Deffler identified one group who seemed to identify with this mixup more than others.
“Moms, especially moms,” Deffler told NPR. “Any mom I talked to says, ‘You know, I’ve definitely done this.'”
Confusing kids’ and dogs’ names?
Our brains also make things more interesting by sneaking another group of names into these organizational folders: our pets’ names, especially dogs.
Deffler said it’s also common for the family dog’s name to get lumped into the brain’s folder with the list of “names of creatures I take care of.” This means you could easily call your kid by the dog’s name.
“You are much more likely to be called the dog’s name than you are to be called the cat’s name,” Defiler said to NPR.
So, the next time you accidentally call a loved one by a different name, even the dog, just remember it’s your mind playing a little trick on you—and it’s probably not something to worry about.