And You Are Who, Again?

Last Updated Jan 7, 2011 3:50 PM EST

Unless you are Hugh Hefner, age brings with it many disappointments. Our physical and mental acuity, for example, start to decline in our mid-20s. But one thing gets better with age -- at least until about 34.

Harvard researchers report that our ability to recognize others doesn't peak until we are in our 30s.

"We all look at faces and practice face-watching, all the time," researcher Laura T. Germine, a Ph.D. student in psychology, tells Harvard Gazette. "It may be that the parts of the brain we use to recognize faces require this extended period of tuning in early adulthood to help us learn and remember a wide variety of different faces."
This is tremendous news because, as we know, we are running at maximum brown-nosing capacity in our third decade, the time when we turn the promise of our 20s into the hard-charging, high-paying career of the rest of our work life.

Being able to pull a name out of a hat when you encounter someone in the elevator -- "Why Hello Ms. Recently-Appointed-CFO and how are your kids Biff and Tricia?" -- just could lead a promotion.

More good news. Face recognition skills diminish slowly, with a 65-year-old having the same capacity to match faces and names as a 16-year-old.

So even though you can't remember where you put the &*%$! keys, at least you can say "Thanks Bill" when they are returned.

(Photo by Flickr user jarron, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.