Chapter 5: Retrieval Processes (Part I)

Retrieval refers to the processes through which we recover items from memory (remembering?)

Note: Encoding and storage are necessary to acquire and retain information. But the crucial process in remembering is retrieval, without which we could not access our memories. Unless we retrieve an experience, we do not really remember it. In the broadest sense, retrieval refers to the use of stored information.

Encoding Specificity Principle (ESP)

The encoding specificity principle of memory (Tulving & Thomson, 1973) provides a general theoretical framework for understanding how contextual information affects memory. Specifically, the principle states that memory is improved when information available at encoding is also available at retrieval. For example, the encoding specificity principle would predict that recall for information would be better if subjects were tested in the same room they had studied in versus having studied in one room and tested in a different room (see S.M. Smith, Glenberg, & Bjork, 1978).

When you store something in memory, the memory is not just of the item being organized and stored but also of the context in which the memory occurred. Recall and recognition thus may be triggered by elements of the context being present.

Remembering knowledge is enhanced when conditions at retrieval match those present at encoding. When retrieval cues differ substantially from those present at encoding, an efficient search of memory may be impossible! (Create a richer context for retrieval – Cuing in widest possible range of context/situation – maximum remembering!)

So what?

To get people to remember something, make use of the context in which it happened.

Context Effects

A person’s memory will be best if the testing occurs in same context as the learning.

Environmental Context Effect — refers to anything external in the environment

•   If given a list to learn in one room, will do better on a memory test if in the same room at test

State-dependent Effects — refers to drug states

•   If in a drug state at learning, you will remember better at test if under same drug than if sober

•   Note: you will do best if sober both times

Mood-dependent Effects — refers to mood state

•   If in a particular mood while learning, will do better at test if in the same mood.

There ought to be a link between encoding & retrieval — perhaps good memory is a result of a good link. What leads to good memory? — Memory cues — cues lead to retrieval (e.g., face – name)

Q: So, what makes a retrieval cue effective?

A retrieval cue is any stimulus that helps us recall information in long-term memory. The fact that retrieval cues can provoke powerful recollections has led some researchers to speculate that perhaps all memories are permanent. That is, perhaps nearly all experiences are recorded in memory for a lifetime, and all forgetting is due not to the actual loss of memories but to our inability to retrieve them. This idea is an interesting one, but most memory researchers believe it is probably wrong.

Two general principles govern the effectiveness of retrieval cues. One is called the encoding specificity principle. According to this principle, stimuli may act as retrieval cues for an experience if they were encoded with the experience. Pictures, words, sounds, or smells will cause us to remember an experience to the extent that they are similar to the features of the experience that we encoded into memory. For example, the smell of cotton candy may trigger your memory of a specific amusement park because you smelled cotton candy there.

Distinctiveness is another principle that determines the effectiveness of retrieval cues. Suppose a group of people is instructed to study a list of 100 items. Ninety-nine are words, but one item in the middle of the list is a picture of an elephant. If people were given the retrieval cue “Which item was the picture?” almost everyone would remember the elephant. However, suppose another group of people was given a different 100-item list in which the elephant picture appeared in the same position, but all the other items were also pictures of other objects and animals. Now the retrieval cue would not enable people to recall the picture of the elephant because the cue is no longer distinctive. Distinctive cues specify one or a few items of information.

Overt cues such as sights and sounds can clearly induce remembering. But evidence indicates that more subtle cues, such as moods and physiological states, can also influence our ability to recall events.

State-dependent memory refers to the phenomenon in which people can retrieve information better if they are in the same physiological state as when they learned the information. The initial observations that aroused interest in state-dependent memory came from therapists working with alcoholic patients. When sober, patients often could not remember some act they performed when intoxicated. For example, they might put away a paycheck while intoxicated and then forget where they put it. This memory failure is not surprising, because alcohol and other depressant drugs (such as marijuana, sedatives, and even antihistamines) are known to impair learning and memory. However, in the case of the alcoholics, if they got drunk again after a period of abstinence, they sometimes recovered the memory of where the paycheck was. This observation suggested that perhaps drug-induced states function as a retrieval cue.

A number of studies have confirmed this hypothesis. In one typical experiment, volunteers drank an alcoholic or nonalcoholic beverage before studying a list of words. A day later, the same subjects were asked to recall as many of the words as they could, either in the same state as they were in during the learning phase (intoxicated or sober) or in a different state. Not surprisingly, individuals intoxicated during learning but sober during the test did worse at recall than those sober during both phases. In addition, people who studied material sober and then were tested while intoxicated did worse than those sober for both phases. The most interesting finding, however, was that people intoxicated during both the learning and test phase did much better at recall than those who were intoxicated only during learning, showing the effect of state-dependent memory.

When people are in the same state during study and testing, their recall is better than those tested in a different state. However, one should not conclude that alcohol improves memory. As noted, alcohol and other depressant drugs usually impair memory and most other cognitive processes. Those who had alcohol during both phases remembered less than those who were sober during both phases.

Psychologists have also studied the topic of mood-dependent memory. If people are in a sad mood when exposed to information, will they remember it better later if they are in a sad mood when they try to retrieve it? Although experiments testing this idea have produced mixed results, most find evidence for mood-dependent memory.

Mood- and state-dependent memory effects are further examples of the encoding specificity principle. If mood or drug state is encoded as part of the learning experience, then providing this cue during retrieval enhances performance.

7 thoughts on “Chapter 5: Retrieval Processes (Part I)”

  1. Dr. Roy:

    I think Chapter 5 is the most effective chapter for me, because it’s really useful. As in the classroom we talked the good memory is a reasult of a GOOD LINK. If we can teach children in linking their situation, emotion, habits, cultures in their studying new subjects. I think it would be very helpful for them to remember the new things. Therefore, teacher should not push the students to use OUR STRATEGIES to remember things. We should respect their ways and try to help them in recalling and recognition. Finally, I think asking “why” in encoding and retrieval information is very useful. We can always use in our classroom.

  2. From this chapter i come up with the idea of applying it in teaching. In teaching teacher should guide students how to think and not what to think. Some of the reasons are, students can come up with their own idea and can remember effectively, students can structure they own way of understanding independently, and most important is that students keep the information longer because the basement of their understanding is from their own. In my opinion this method might work effectively in retrieving information. 🙂

  3. I think our memory is affected a lot by our emotion. Usually we can memorize and recall better in a good mood. However we will have a bad recall when we are very nervous in a test. Therefore, the teacher should create a exciting and interesting environment in classroom to help studnets learning in a good mood. Also giving a test in the same place where the students learned will help them have a good recall in the test. Just like what we do in our class, Dr. Roy always make the class interesting, so I feel very happy in the class and learn better. And when I recall these information in the test, I also have a good mood.

  4. i think retrieving information from the long term memory is quite a complicated work for the brain. our brain not only need to recall but also need to recognize the many information that is stored in our memory. i think it all depends on how one person stores it’s own information in their memory. The same information may be stored differently in different people, since everyone will make different associations to their own past learning and experiences and this leads to in realising that the speed with which people retrieve information is not really linked to intelligence, but rather to the way in which it was stored to begin with.

  5. This chapter is very interesting, because it shows how we can recall information and what factors affect the retrieval process. From this chapter, I have learnt that putting all the information together to understand the connections between them will help us to remember well. Imagine, learning a large amount of unconnected and unorganized information from various material can be very difficult and challenging. By organizing and adding meaning to the material prior to learning it, you can facilitate both storage and retrieval. In other words, you can learn it better and recall it easier. I also found out that it is very useful to create some cues or hints when we learn something in order to recall it easily later.

  6. After taking this class it change the way of thinking of how to teach student… the most important thing to teach the student is how to study how to memorize and how to retrival which it is different from what i think be fore i took this class

  7. Our brain works better when there are better and more links among knowledge, facts, and thoughts. We can reconstruct and retrieve clear memory once we have better links across experiences and information. Teachers can improve students’ retrieval processes if they allow the students to think across lessons, subjects and classes and make meaningful connections.

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