5 Amazing Facts You Should Know About Memory and Recall

Posted on December 5, 2017

Photo: pexels

"If we remembered everything, we should on most occasions be as ill off as if we remembered nothing." ~William James

Your memory and recall is what makes YOU who you are. However, forming of a memory and its reall is generally still poorly understood. People say that they have "bad memories" because of the comparison to things like computer memory, but these are just things that cannot be used for comparison. Human memory is something that is by far more complicated and quirky than the 'memory' residing in our smart devices today.

Based on a review chapter by UCLA memory expert, Professor Robert A. Bjork, here is a 5-point guide to the psychology of memory and recall.

1. Memory does not decay
The frustration of not being able to recall a fact from memory is something experienced by everyone. "What was his name again?" "Now, where did I park the car?" Although it might seem like memories decay, this can't be further from the truth. Memory has a limitless capacity and everything is stored in there, but without rehearsal, memories become harder to access (recall). It is not the memory that is 'going off', it's the ability to retrieve it.

2. 'Lost' memories can live again
When memories become less accessible, this does not mean they cannot be revived. This even applies to things that you have long been unable to recall. Experiments have proven that even information that has become inaccessible for a long time can still be revived, and it is re-learned more quickly than new information. Just like you never forgetting how to ride a bike; this doesn't apply to just motor skills, but also memory and recall.

3. Recalling memories alters them.
When you recall memories, it becomes stronger. In the process of recall is actively constructing the past, or the parts of it you choose to remember. The flipside of this is that false memories can potentially be created by this process of falsely recalling the past. Psychologists have also tried experimentally implanting false memories.

4. When recall is easy, learning is low.
When you recall something instantly, you feel clever. But when it takes ages to recall something, you feel stupid. Right? However, learning works in exact reverse. When something comes to mind quickly, we do no work to recall it, and no learning occurs. When we have to work hard to bring it to consciousness, we learn. And when we spent more effort trying to learn something, it comes back more easily to us. When the memories of people are tested, the work work that they have done to construct (or re-construct) the target memory, the stronger the memory eventually turns out. This is why proper learning, e.g. in school, involves testing, because staring at the information just isn't good enough. To really learn, we need to put in effort for our recall.

5. Memory, Reloaded
In picking up tennis, would it be better to spend one week learning to serve, the next week the forehand, the week after the backhand, and so on? Or would it be better to mix it all up with serves, forehands and backhands every day? The answer is this: For long term retention, memories are more easily recalled if learning is mix up. This applies to both motor learning (playing tennis) and declarative memory (e.g. what is the capital of Venezuela). The problem here is that learning like this is worse to start off with. If you practice your serve and then so quickly switch to the forehand thereafter, you "forget" how to serve. You'll tend to feel things going worse for you, than if you just practice your serve over-and-over again. However, for the long-run, this type of mix-and-match learning has proven to work best. This is due to the reloading hypothesis where we have to 'reload' the memory each time we switch tasks, and this process of reloading strengthens the learning.

Our memory isn't as poor as we imagine, and our recall can be made better if we just know how.


Source material from PsyBlog

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