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Memory recall

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Memory recall

Memory recollection is important for everyday life. It shapes who you are and enables you to carry out tasks (such as taking exams after revising all night). So, what is memory recall in psychology? There are typically three stages of memory:

  1. Encoding
  2. Storage
  3. Retrieval

The retrieval stage is essentially when an individual tries to recall/ remember memories that have been stored in the brain. Psychology research has found that there are factors that affect memory retrieval.

For example, if the memory was elaborately rehearsed.

In addition, Psychologists have identified methods of improving memory, such as the use of mnemonics.

Memory recall, woman thinking about happy memories in bubbles around her, StudySmarterMemories are formed throughout our lives, freepik.com/pch.vector

  • We will start off by looking at memory recall studies.
  • We will then dive in to learn about the various memory recall techniques that can be used to help with learning new information.
  • And to finish off we will look at some memory recall issues and how these may be overcome using cues and alternative methods such as hypnosis and mediation for memory recall.

Memory Recall Studies

Psychologists have created many tests to measure memory recall. The typical research design used when testing memory recall involves carrying out a standardised experiment where participants are shown a stimulus for a short period of time and asked to free recall.

Essentially, this means that they need to repeat what they initially saw.

Sometimes distraction tasks are used when the researcher wants to make sure they are measuring a certain aspect of memory such as the long-term memory store.

Murdock (1962) asked participants to free recall a list of words that were presented to them. The list of words varied from 10-40 words. This research established the serial position effect.

The serial position effect proposes that the information first learned or the information last learned is more likely to be remembered. Murdock's (1962) research found evidence of this and coined the term primacy effects, the ability to recall information first learned better, and recency effects, the ability to recall information learned last better.

Memory recall, List of animals with an arrow pointing at the first word with the label primacy effect and an arrow pointing at the last word with the label recency effect, StudySmarterMurdock's (1962) research showed evidence supporting the serial position effect- StudySmarter Oginal- Sharon Thind (Canva)

You may have tried to remember something before, and you very nearly have it, but can't quite picture it or say what you think it is. This is known as the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon.

Factors That Cause Memory Recall Issues

It is typically agreed upon by psychologists that memory retrieval is more difficult the longer the period is between learning and recalling a memory. However, if memory is consolidated properly, then recall and accuracy of memory is likely to be retrieved.

Memory retrieval is a cognitive process that involves remembering information that has previously been learned.

Memory consolidation

Memory needs to be consolidated so that it can be stored in the long-term memory store, and it is usually done through elaborate rehearsal. If this is not done then memory recall is more difficult or the memory may decay or be displaced.

  • Research has found that memories that have had more elaborate rehearsals are more likely to be remembered than ones that have not.

Psychologists have established strategies to help with learning information. Mnemonics are sometimes used as a technique, where the first letter of each word is used to represent the word in a phrase. This method is typically used when people want to remember longer phrases.

An example of a mnemonic is DSM-IV, which stands for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition.

Another method used to memorise something, for instance, when having difficulties remembering complicated or large chunks of information, is the use of acrostics. An acrostic is where a phrase is coined based on each letter of the word/phrase (commonly the first) stands for another word.

An example of an acrostic technique that is commonly used is to help remember the order of the colours of the rainbow.

The acrostic is Richard of York Gave Battle In Vain. This would help the individual remember that the colours of the rainbow order are: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo & Violet.

The short-term memory store has a limited capacity of 7+/-2 'chunks' of information, if the amount of information stored here at the same time surpasses that limit, then some of the information is displaced.

Displacement means that the information cannot be moved to the long-term memory and is likely irretrievable.

The use of mnemonics and acronyms reduces the amount of 'chunks' that are in the short-term memory and so it is likely to be moved to the long-term memory store if it is elaborately rehearsed enough.

Memory retrieval

For a memory to be recalled it must be retrieved first. There are different types of retrieval.

  • Recall - remembering information without any cues.

    Remembering your schedule for the day without any prompts

  • Recognition- identifying new information based on previously learned memories.

    Identifying the answer in a multiple-choice test based on what you have previously learned

  • Recollection- reconstructing a memory (mentally) to remember something.

    Retracing your steps to remember where you placed your keys

Memories may be retrieved via association this is a form of cue recall. You may experience this when you see something and it reminds you of a previous memory. Cues essentially are hints that help you recall memories via association. Attending to information can also help retrieve memories. To do this, individuals need to make a conscious effort to try and remember something.

"I put my keys on the table, did I move them? Maybe I took them to the kitchen with me, let me retrace my steps."

Sometimes memories can be forgotten and cannot be retrieved, this is called retrieval failure. The potential factors that may cause memory retrieval failure are that the memory has been displaced. Memory displacement occurs when new information has replaced it and this usually occurs when the memory has not been stored in the long-term memory store or it was not rehearsed enough.

Or, the memory has decayed; this usually occurs when a memory is not thought about often.

Finally, interference may occur. Interference occurs when the learning of new information has interfered with a previous memory, this can distort the memory.

Strategies Used to Improve Memory Recall?

Memory recall is an important function that is needed to function properly. However, sometimes information can be forgotten. Psychologists have established factors and techniques that can be used to help recall memories.

Memory Recall Techniques

People can use strategies to help them recall memories, these can be:

  • Use of effective retrieval cues:
    • Contextual - when someone is given some cues about the context of an event/phenomenon that happened/exists then the individual is more likely to recall the event
    • Visual - when someone sees something that looks similar to the information that they are trying to retrieve. The person is more likely o recall the memory
  • Alternative methods:
    • Hypnosis for memory recall - there is disagreement amongst researchers concerning whether hypnosis is an effective method that can help memory recall. Hypnosis is a method used to ‘uncover hidden, unconscious memories’. This does not essentially mean that we are likely to remember memories better when hypnotised.
    • Meditation for memory recall - meditation is a mindfulness technique that can boost abilities to pay attention and concentrate on things. These factors are known to improve memory recall abilities

Memory recall - Key takeaways

  • There are three stages of memory: encoding, storage and retrieval; the retrieval stage is where the cognitive process of memory recall takes place.
  • Memory recall is the ability to remember information that has been stored in the LTM store
  • Factors that affect memory recall are how long ago the memory was learned, if the information was elaborately rehearsed and if any new information has disrupted or distorted the memory that the person is trying to recall.
  • Factors that can improve memory recall are using effective retrieval cues, use of acronyms or acrostics and mindfulness techniques such as meditation.

Frequently Asked Questions about Memory recall

Methods of improving memory recall are:

  • Use of effective retrieval cues 
  • Hypnosis 
  • Meditation


Lost memories can sometimes be recalled through hypnosis. However, the memory trace still needs to exist. For instance, the memory may have been repressed into the unconscious mind. If the memory has decayed then it cannot be retrieved.

Long term memory recall can be improved by ensuring that the information has been elaborately rehearsed. 

Long term memory recall can be improved by ensuring that the information has been elaborately rehearsed. This can be done through the use of mnemonics and acronyms. This shortens the amount of information that needs to be learned. This makes it easier to remember, store, encode and does not take too much capacity (less likely to be displaced in the STM). Moreover, the memory retrieval will use contextual cues which can help the accuracy of memory retrieval. 

Factors that affect memory recall are:

  • If the memory was elaborately rehearsed 
  • If the individual has any cues that can help with recall 
  • Whether new information has interfered with pre-existing memories 
  • How long ago the memory was learned


Final Memory recall Quiz

Question

What is memory recall?

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Answer

Memory recall is the ability to remember information that has been stored in the LTM store

Show question

Question

During which stage of memory, does memory recall happen?

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Answer

Encoding 

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Question

What theory did Murdock (1962) propose? 


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Answer

The serial position effect

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Question

Which of the following matches the following description, “people are more likely to remember the last thing that they learned”?


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Answer

Primacy effect 

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Question

What methods can be used to improve memory recall? 


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Answer

Methods of improving memory recall are:

  • Use of effective retrieval cues 
  • Elaborately rehearsing memories 
  • Hypnosis 
  • Meditation 

Show question

Question

What factors affect memory recall? 


Show answer

Answer

Factors that affect memory recall are:

  • If the memory was elaborately rehearsed 
  • If the individual has any cues that can help with recall 
  • Whether new information has interfered with pre-existing memories 
  • How long ago the memory was learned


Show question

Question

What effect does mediation have on memory? 

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Answer

Meditation is a mindfulness technique that can boost abilities to pay attention and concentrate on things. These factors are known to improve memory recall abilities

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Question

Which of the following technique matches the following example, “DSM-IV stands for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition”?


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Answer

Acronym 

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Question

What is a typical psychology research procedure used to test memory recall?


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Answer

The typical research design in memory recall tests is carrying out a standardised experiment where participants are shown stimuli for a short period and asked to free recall what the stimuli were.

Show question

Question

What type of retrieval is “re-tracing your steps to remember where you placed your keys”?


Show answer

Answer

Recall

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Question

What type of retrieval is “identifying the answer in a multiple-choice test based on what you have previously learned ”?


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Answer

Recall

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Question

What type of retrieval is “remembering your schedule for the day without any prompts”?


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Answer

Recall

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Question

What is another phrase used in psychology when we remember information based on associations?


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Answer

Cue recall 

Show question

Question

Why may people not be able to recall memories?


Show answer

Answer

 The potential factors that may cause memory retrieval failure are:

  • the memory may have been displaced - new information has replaced it because it was not stored in the LTM store or it was not rehearsed enough 
  • the memory has decayed - sometimes when a memory is not thought about often it can be forgotten/ decay.
  • Inference - the learning of new information has interfered with a previous memory, this can also distort the memory


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