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Why Do We Forget People's Names as Soon as We Meet Them?

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Once, at a party, I was introduced to a friend of a friend. We shook hands, I told her my name, she told me hers. Then she did something that I was ever so grateful for.

"Hang on," she said. "Can you say your name again? I wasn't really listening."

She saved me from having to later—possibly even at the same party—sheepishly admit that I, too, had already forgotten her name.

An informal poll of fellow Atlantic staffers confirmed my suspicion that this is something that happens to even the most kind and conscientious among us. No sooner does someone utter the most fundamental factoid about themselves than the information flees our brains forever.

There are a few reasons why this occurs:

  • The next-in-line effect: When you encounter a group of strangers with outstretched hands, your mind turns into a scared 9-year-old at the school talent show. You're not watching the other contestants; you're practicing your own routine. The process of both preparing to take in the others' names and to say your own, as Esther Inglis-Arkell explained at i09, is so taxing that you don't devote any brain power to actually learning the new names.
  • You're not really that interested: Maybe you're just making an appearance at this party and are planning to abscond shortly to a superior kick-back. Your level of interest can impact how well you remember something. "Some people, perhaps those who are more socially aware, are just more interested in people, more interested in relationships," Richard Harris, professor of psychology at Kansas State University, told ScienceDaily. "They would be more motivated to remember somebody's name."
  • A failure of working memory: There are two types of storage in the brain: Long-term and short-term. The short-term variety is called "working memory," and it functions like a very leaky thermos. It doesn't hold much and it spills stuff out all the time. "You can hold just a little bit of information there and if you don't concentrate on it, it fades away rapidly," Paul Reber, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, told me in an email. "Information like a name needs to be transferred to a different brain system that creates long-term memories that persist over time."
  • Names are kind of pointless: To answer the famous question, there's not much in a name, frankly. It doesn't actually tell you anything about the person you're meeting, and thus it doesn't give your brain anything to cling to. Steve may love parkour, but he'd love it just as much if he were Samuel or Sheldon. "Human memory is very good at things like faces and factual information that connects well to other information you already know," Reber said. Steve's waxing enthusiastic about his trasseur training sticks in your brain because it adheres to other information you already know. Wasn't District 13, that French parkour movie, really awesome? And hey, remember that time you studied abroad in Paris? All those little connections help solidify the memory of who Steve is and what he does. 

​The name, meanwhile, "is both completely arbitrary and somewhat familiar (for common names) and ends up neither connecting to what you already know nor standing out as unusual," Reber said. "So you get this funny phenomenon where you can remember lots about a person you recently met—everything except their name (this happens to me all the time)."

So the next time you'd like to excuse yourself for forgetting someone's name without offending the person, just say something like, "Oh sorry, I was just overly concerned with telling you my own name to remember yours. But to be fair, your name isn't actually that interesting to me, and besides, it's inconsequential in the grand scheme of things."








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kebra
1624 days ago
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REVIVE: FOUNDATION AT HARLEM WHOLE FOODS

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There was a lot activity on the Harlem Whole Food site by Lenox at the corner of 125th Street this past weekend and it included more than just digging.  A small squad of cement trucks descended the south corner of the development at 124th Street and blocked our view in the morning when having a quick breakfast at Harlem Shake on Saturday.  This construction site broke ground 8 months ago but it all looked like a big excavation pit until now.  As can be seen at the top photo, cement was being poured for the foundation so maybe an actual building will start rising by early fall.  Lack of major activity on the site might have been due to a freeze in funding but that situation has since been rectified: LINK
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Are Bad Pollsters Copying Good Pollsters?

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The political polling industry is a mess. Fewer and fewer people are willing to respond to telephone surveys, particularly automated ones, and the costs of live interviews are climbing ever higher. Meanwhile, polls have gained prominence in the political media (FiveThirtyEight itself is a part of this trend), and the Internet seems willing to give a home to almost any survey.

Demand is up, and quality supply is down. The result: pollsters that use nontraditional methodologies such as online and automated surveys are getting more press than ever, and they get included in the models of the main polling aggregators, including FiveThirtyEight, HuffPost Pollster HuffPollster and RealClearPolitics.

The problem is that many of these nontraditional polls may be cheating, adjusting their results to resemble higher-quality polls. We can see this by looking at polling from the final three weeks of Senate campaigns since 2006: in races without traditional, live-interview surveys (what we’ll call gold-standard polling), nontraditional polls have had significantly higher errors than they’ve had in races with at least one gold-standard poll. Gold-standard surveys appear to be the LeBron Jameses of the polling world: They make everyone around them better.

That’s how it’s supposed to work in basketball but not in polling, and this is a major problem for anyone watching 2014’s races. There hasn’t been a gold-standard poll released to the public at all for Alaska’s Senate race, in three months for Arkansas’s Senate race, in three months for Kentucky’s Senate race, ever in Louisiana’s likely Senate runoff, and in nearly four months for North Carolina’s Senate race. The only polls we can consider in these races were conducted by pollsters who have historically fared considerably worse as a group when the gold-standard pollsters weren’t around.

But let’s back up for a moment: What’s a nontraditional poll? One that doesn’t abide by the industry’s best practices. 7 1 So, a survey is nontraditional if it:

Everything else is a gold-standard poll.

The FiveThirtyEight polling database has 865 polls conducted in the final three weeks 8 2 of Senate campaigns since 2006 (spread across 122 different elections). Of those, 224 polls were conducted in races without gold-standard polling:

enten-datalab-badpollsters-2

Another 147 were conducted by gold-standard pollsters:

enten-datalab-badpollsters-3

The remaining 494 surveys were conducted by nontraditional pollsters in races where at least one gold-standard poll was conducted in the final three weeks:

enten-datalab-badpollsters-4

A look at this chart, which charts the polling errors for these three different groups using a local regression, makes clear the effect of having a gold-standard pollster in the field during the end of the campaign:

enten-datalab-badpollsters-1

It’s easy to see why we have a problem. In races with no gold-standard pollster, the nontraditional pollsters have had individual polling errors about 0.6 to 4.3 percentage points higher 9 3 than when at least one gold-standard pollster is active in the race. Gold-standard pollsters’ error rates were about 1.5 to 3.1 percentage points lower during the same period.

On average, the gold-standard polls in the final 21 days of Senate campaigns had an absolute mean error of about 3.8 percentage points. The nontraditional pollsters in those same races had an average error of 4.3 points. Those are fairly close, but when no gold-standard pollsters were active, the mean error rate for the nontraditional polls shot up to 6 percentage points. 10 4

But can’t you just throw all these nontraditional polls into an average? The error rates above, after all, are for individual surveys. Sites such as FiveThirtyEight, HuffPost Pollster HuffPollster and RealClearPolitics average polls in some fashion in the hope of lowering the error rate. And while this works to a degree, you can’t average the nontraditional polls together to make the accuracy gap between the races where gold-standard pollsters are active and those where they aren’t disappear.

There were 47 Senate elections since 2006 in which only nontraditional pollsters were active in the final three weeks and at least two polls were taken. The mean error of the average of polls in these races was 5.1 percentage points.

On the other hand, there were 55 senate elections since 2006 in which at least one gold-standard pollster was active in the final three weeks and at least two polls of any type were taken. The mean error of the average of these polls was 3.1 percentage points.

Both of these error rates do suggest that averaging polls leads to lower error rates, but you need better polls in order to get the best predictions.

So, why do the nontraditional pollsters seem to do worse in races where there aren’t gold-standard pollsters conducting polls? The above chart looks similar to one produced by Princeton University graduate student Steven Rogers and Vanderbilt University professor of political science Joshua Clinton, who studied interactive voice response (IVR) surveys in the 2012 Republican presidential primary. (IVR pollsters are in our nontraditional group.) Rogers and Clinton found that IVR pollsters were about as accurate as live-interview pollsters in races where live-interview pollsters surveyed the electorate. IVR pollsters were considerably less accurate when no live-interview poll was conducted. This effect held true even when controlling for a slew of different variables. Rogers and Clinton suggested that the IVR pollsters were taking a “cue” from the live pollsters in order to appear more accurate.

My own analysis hints at the same possibility. The nontraditional pollsters did worse in races without a live pollster. But could something other than outright copying be going on here? I checked a few possibilities, but the effect remains even when we account for when the poll was conducted (since gold-standard and nontraditional pollsters could be in the field at different times), the turnout rate (sinceelections with lower turnout could be more difficult to project than those with higher turnout), and the state in which the race took place (since some states may simply be more difficult to poll than others):

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 4.42.07 PM

Note how the coefficient for “any gold” is quite negative and the p-value “P>|t|” is well below the traditional 0.01 threshold. That means nontraditional polls taken in states where live pollsters were active had significantly lower error rates even when accounting for these other variables.

You might be wondering if the gold-standard pollsters themselves may be checking out one another’s results. I ran those regressions as well. While there may be some effect, the case here is far weaker once you control for the state in which the election was held.

None of this proves guilt, but it does raise the possibility some pollsters may be peeking at their neighbors’ papers. And to be clear, we shouldn’t avoid discussing 2014 races that don’t have gold-standard polling data; nontraditional polls still have some predictive value. But we should acknowledge that the forecasting ability of these polls in these races is considerably worse on average.

Overall, though, Senate polling since 2006 paints a potentially troubling picture for the future of public electoral polling. The gold-standard pollsters aren’t releasing much data this year and probably won’t in the future as the cost of producing top-quality surveys climbs. And the nontraditional pollsters simply haven’t performed as well as a group when gold-standard pollsters aren’t around.

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Two dozen riders stranded on roller-coaster await rescue

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Roller Coaster Stuck

Authorities say The Joker's Jinx roller-coaster roller coaster carrying 24 people has become stuck near the top of the ride and fire officials are trying to rescue them at Six Flags America in Maryland.

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Supermoon: Your pictures

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Your photos of the August supermoon
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Choose Firefox Now, Or Later You Won't Get A Choice

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I know it's not the greatest marketing pitch, but it's the truth.

Google is bent on establishing platform domination unlike anything we've ever seen, even from late-1990s Microsoft. Google controls Android, which is winning; Chrome, which is winning; and key Web properties in Search, Youtube, Gmail and Docs, which are all winning. The potential for lock-in is vast and they're already exploiting it, for example by restricting certain Google Docs features (e.g. offline support) to Chrome users, and by writing contracts with Android OEMs forcing them to make Chrome the default browser. Other bad things are happening that I can't even talk about. Individual people and groups want to do the right thing but the corporation routes around them. (E.g. PNaCl and Chromecast avoided Blink's Web standards commitments by declaring themselves not part of Blink.) If Google achieves a state where the Internet is really only accessible through Chrome (or Android apps), that situation will be very difficult to escape from, and it will give Google more power than any company has ever had.

Microsoft and Apple will try to stop Google but even if they were to succeed, their goal is only to replace one victor with another.

So if you want an Internet --- which means, in many ways, a world --- that isn't controlled by Google, you must stop using Chrome now and encourage others to do the same. If you don't, and Google wins, then in years to come you'll wish you had a choice and have only yourself to blame for spurning it now.

Of course, Firefox is the best alternative :-). We have a good browser, and lots of dedicated and brilliant people improving it. Unlike Apple and Microsoft, Mozilla is totally committed to the standards-based Web platform as a long-term strategy against lock-in. And one thing I can say for certain is that of all the contenders, Mozilla is least likely to establish world domination :-).

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kebra
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8 public comments
LonelyBob
1595 days ago
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Good read, some of the reasons why I choose to use Firefox and choose not to use Chrome.
Saitama, Japan
Cafeine
1624 days ago
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Tons of FUD, but I'm using Safari ans FF only. Worth a read.
Paris / France
jhamill
1625 days ago
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"Other bad things are happening that I can't even talk about."

Trust me because, why would I lie?
California
futurile
1614 days ago
@jhamill, I agree the 'trust me there are things I can't tell you' is weak, but in fairness Google does take the other actions. Android OEM's are restricted contractually and through marketing money. It doesn't matter that this is focused on Google, we've got good evidence from the previous 20 years of tech that any one company dominating leads to stagnation and is bad for users.
expatpaul
1625 days ago
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Worth a read
Belgium
smilerz
1625 days ago
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What a load of crap.
Chicago or thereabouts
mbrixius
1625 days ago
Yes, its called FUD, For Fear, uncertainty and Doubt. Event though they are right that Google is evil this is just a self centered ploy to make themselves the winner
smilerz
1625 days ago
Microsoft had every advantage and oodles of money - if they couldn't manage to corner the market why would anyone believe that it can be done?
fxer
1624 days ago
Yeah I just think of when IE had 95% market penetration or so and decided to stop innovating. Then Firefox and later Safari and Chrome blew that all apart. You will always have a choice.
marmalade
1625 days ago
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Agree, absolutely. Firefox on my PC (Linux / Windows) and Android devices. If there's a non-Google solution, use it :)
Sussex, UK
hashier
1625 days ago
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worth a read
Sweden && Germany
acdha
1627 days ago
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This is a strong position – unsurprising coming from someone in the thick of the browser at Mozilla – but it's why I made Firefox my default browser about 6 months back.
Washington, DC
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