One of the most important events at most memory championships and similar events is a game in which the competitors are asked to match hundreds of face photographs to subjects' first and last names. We've all had friends who say they're bad with names -- and some of us probably are that friend. While it's true that a capacity for facial recognition varies, like any other mental skill, from person to person, it's also an important skill to have and develop. Socially and professionally, from childhood through our adult lives, we're constantly in situations where it's helpful -- even critical -- to put names with faces.
By teaching children to remember facial features and expressions, we give them a hand up not only in this major skill, but also in reading other peoples' emotions, both subtle and overt. While some kids take longer to understand the link between facial expressions and internal emotion, it's more important than ever -- now that so much of our communication takes place verbally -- to make sure those subtle physical and facial cues are part of their social arsenal. While an ability to remember names is an important talent in business and the educational world, an understanding of facial responses helps us navigate life immeasurably -- and a child with a strong background in understanding those emotional states becomes an adult with a much more highly intuitive understanding of their encounters, which means fewer disagreements, interpersonal confusion and other obstacles to fun and profit.