CogniFit's Science blog: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly To Memory Retrieval

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly To Memory Retrieval

The mind and memory is an astonishing feature to the human species. It is truly remarkable how someone can experience something and remember what happened years later. Once information has been encoded and stored in the memory bank, it must then be retrieved in order to be used again. And that retrieval process is not always as smooth as you might think.

Memory retrieval is vital for just about every aspect of daily life. You have to remember where you parked your car, where your work office is, what the company is looking for out of that big report, and then how to get back home after work. There are a plethora of factors that influence how this information is retrieved from the long-term memory bank.

In order to fully understand the process, it is best to know what retrieval is and the factors that can impact how information is retrieved. There are several types of retrieval depending on what kind of information you are looking for and how far back the information goes.

There are usually four basic ways information is pulled up with each type of retrieval cue impacting how the information is retrieved. If you are recalling something, this type of memory retrieval involves accessing the information without being cued. One example would be answering a question on a fill-in-the-blank test and naming it.

The second way is recollecting, which involves reconstructing memory and often utilizing logical structures, partial memories, narratives or clues. Writing an answer on an essay exam requires remembering information and reconstructing the other pieces of information based on memories.

Recognition involves identifying information after experiencing it again such as taking a multiple-choice quiz that requires you remembering the correct answer out of a group of answers. And the final way to retrieve information is simply relearning it. This involves just that, relearning the information that has been learned at some point in life.

As with just about anything in life, memory retrieval is far from perfect. There will be glitches in the system along the way. Think of information that is on the ‘tip of the tongue.’ It is right there, you can picture it but the actual information is not coming to mind. You know it is stored in your memory bank, but you cannot retrieve it or access it.

While this is irritating, research shows that this is quite common as it occurs as often as once a week for younger individuals and two to four times a week for elderly adults. Memory retrieval is not flawless, but the thought of such a complex system is pretty remarkable in its own.