Retrieval in psychology is the act of locating and recovering information stored in memory in our minds. Retrieval is considered the final stage of memory, just after encoding and retention.
Retrieval is a critical process in the human memory system.
It refers to the ability to locate and recover information that has been previously stored in our minds. Retrieval is considered the final stage of memory, following encoding and retention. In psychology, understanding how we retrieve information from memory is a fundamental topic of study.
There are different ways in which we retrieve information, including recall, recognition, and relearning. In this article, we will delve into each of these types of retrieval, exploring how they work and the factors that influence their effectiveness.
What is Retrieval in Psychology?
Retrieval is the act of bringing information from our memory storage back into our conscious awareness. It’s like finding a saved picture on your phone’s memory and opening it up so you can edit it. Our ability to retrieve information from long-term memory is essential for our everyday functioning. From tying our shoes to washing our faces, we need to retrieve information from memory to do these tasks.
Now, psychologists make a distinction between available information and accessible information. Available information is all the information that’s stored in our memory, but we can’t know precisely how much or what types are stored. Accessible information is the information we can retrieve. The assumption is that accessible information represents only a small fraction of the information available in our brains.
Have you ever tried to remember something and given up, only to have it pop into your head later on, even when you’re not actively trying to remember it? That’s because the information was available, but not initially accessible. On the other hand, if we’re given several choices, like in a multiple-choice test, we may easily recognize information that we couldn’t recall on our own.
Retrieval is a critical component of our memory functioning, and understanding the difference between available and accessible information can help us better understand how our brains work.
What are Memory Cues in Psychology?
Memory cues help us retrieve information from our memory. Have you ever heard a song on the radio that suddenly brings back memories of a past experience? That’s because the song is closely associated with that experience and serves as a retrieval cue.
The effectiveness of retrieval cues is based on the encoding specificity principle, which states that when we encode information, we do so in specific ways. So, when a retrieval cue matches or overlaps the memory trace of an experience, it becomes effective in evoking the memory.
However, a retrieval cue cannot match too many other experiences, or it will be less effective. This is known as the cue overload principle. To be effective, a retrieval cue should only match one item in the target set and be distinctive. For example, if you study audiobooks while jogging down the same forest path every day, the physical context of the forest serves as a retrieval cue and can help you remember the information you learned previously.
So, the next time you’re trying to remember something, think about what cues you can use to help you retrieve the memory effectively.
What are the Three Types of Retrieval?
There are three main ways to retrieve information from your long-term memory storage: recall, recognition, and relearning.
Recall is when you can access information without any cues. For example, if you were to take an exam, you would be using recall to retrieve information.
Recognition is when you identify information that you’ve previously learned after encountering it again. This happens when you take a multiple-choice test and you recognize the correct answer. Another example of recognition is when you see someone you used to work with on Instagram and you recognize them.
The third form of retrieval is relearning, which is when you learn information that you previously learned before. For instance, let’s say you took French in high school but haven’t used it in years. If you decide to enroll in a French class, you would be relearning the language.
Recall and Recognition in Psychology
As we go about our daily lives, we rely on our memory to recall important information that we have learned or experienced. Retrieval is the process of locating and recovering information stored in our memory, and it’s considered the final stage of memory, just after encoding and retention.
Psychologists measure memory performance using production tests, also known as recall, or recognition tests, which involve the selection of correct from incorrect information, such as a multiple-choice test.
When it comes to memory retrieval, recognition tests are often considered the easier of the two, as the cue for retrieval is a copy of the actual event or name that was presented for study.
However, research has shown that recognition tests don’t always provide perfect indexes of what is stored in memory. Instead, recall tests can sometimes lead to better performance than recognition tests, depending on how the information was encoded and what cue is used to evoke retrieval.
To illustrate this point, let’s explore the example of famous authors and their surnames. While it may seem like being given the actual last name would always be the best cue, research has shown that first names can be more effective in evoking recall for some people.
In fact, sometimes the target itself, such as a famous author’s name, is not the best cue. The encoding specificity principle suggests that the cues that work best to evoke retrieval are those that recreate the event or name to be remembered, and which cue will be most effective depends on how the information has been encoded.
What is Retrieval and Reconstruction?
The act of memory retrieval is not as objective as we might think. Every time we retrieve a memory, it is altered, and the memory is constantly changing. Retrieval can be a double-edged sword; it strengthens the memory just retrieved but can harm related information.
We reconstruct distant memories by weaving together bits and pieces of events with assumptions and preferences to form a coherent story.
However, this process can lead to inaccuracies and false memories. Retrieval practice (repetition) can strengthen both accurate memories and errors or false memories. Precise details in memory do not necessarily indicate its truth, and laboratory studies confirm this.