The cognitive psychology and neuroscience of naming people

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The use of proper names enables us to designate entities, including people, at a very specific level of categorization: the unique entity or the individual. The paper presents a general overview of psychological/cognitive and neuroscientific studies that have compared the production of proper names, in particular people’s names, with the production of common nouns during the last thirty years. The search for specific brain correlates of proper naming included single-case and group studies of patients with brain lesions, and studies utilizing functional neuroimaging or brain electrical stimulation with healthy participants. These studies have led neuroscientists to hypothesize that the recall of proper names involves a rather complex network including mainly left frontal and temporal regions. Behavioural evidence supports the view that proper names are more difficult to recall than common names, and scientists have proposed different explanations for this relative difficulty. Finally, several new directions for future research are proposed to improve our understanding of both cognitive processes and their brain correlates involved during proper name recall.

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