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16 February, 2016 - 09:24

Even when information has been adequately encoded and stored, it does not do us any good if we cannot retrieve it. Retrieval refers to theprocess ofreactivating information that has been stored in memory. You can get an idea of the difficulty posed by retrieval by simply reading each of the words (but not the categories) in the sidebar below to someone. Tell the person that after you have read all the words, you will ask her to recall the words.

After you read the list to your friend, give her enough time to write down all the words that she can recall. Make sure that she ca nnot recall any more and then, for the words that were not listed, prompt your friend with some of the category names: “Do you remember any words that were furniture? Do you remember any words that were tools?” I think you will find that the category names, which serve as retrieval cues, will help your friend remember information that she c ould not retrieve otherwise.

Retrieval Demonstration

Try this test of the ability to retrieve information with a classmate. The instructions are in the text

























Television stand












Drill press





We’ve a ll experienced retrieval failure in the form of the frustrating tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, in which wearecertain that we knowsomething that wearetrying to recall but cannot quitecomeup with it. You can try this one on your friends as well. Read your friend the names of the 10 states listed in the sidebar below, and ask him to name the capital city of each state. Now, for the capital cities that your friend can’t name, give him just the first letter of the capital city. You’ll probably find that having the first letters of the cities helps with retrieval. The tip-of-the-tongue experience is a very good example of the inability to retrieve information that is actually stored in memory.

States and Capital Cities

Try this demonstration of the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon with a classmate. Instructions are in the text.








(Baton Rouge)





New Jersey









We are more likely to be able to retrieve items from memory when conditions at retrieval are similar to the conditions under which we encoded them. Context-dependent learning refers to an increasein retrieval when the external situation in which information is learned matches the situation in which it is remembered. Godden and Baddeley (1975) 1 conducted a study to test this idea using scuba divers. They asked the divers to learn a list of words either when they were on land or when they were underwater. Then they tested the divers on their memory, either in the same or the opposite situation. As you can see in Figure 8.11, the divers’ memory was better when they were tested in the same context in which they had learned the words than when they were tested in the other context.

Figure 8.11 Results From Godden and Baddeley, 1975 
Godden and Baddeley (1975) tested the memory of scuba divers to learn and retrieve information in different contexts and found strong evidence for context-dependent learning. 

You can see that context-dependent learning might also be important in improving your memory. For instance, you might want to try to study for an exam in a situation that is similar to the one in which you are going to take the exam.

Whereas context-dependent learning refers to a match in the external situation between learning and remembering, state-dependent learning refers to superior retrieval of memories when the individual is in thesamephysiological or psychological stateas during encoding. Research has found, for instance, that animals that learn a maze while under the influence of one drug tend to remember their learning better when they are tested under the influence of the same drug than when they are tested without the drug (Jackson, Koek, & Colpaert, 1992). 2And research with humans finds that bilinguals remember better when tested in the same language in which they learned the material (Marian & Kaushanskaya, 2007). 3Mood states may also produce state- dependent learning. People who learn information when they are in a bad (rather than a good) mood find it easier to recall these memories when they are tested while they are in a bad mood, and vice versa. It is easier to recall unpleasant memories than pleasant ones when we’re sad, and easier to recall pleasant memories than unpleasant ones when we’re happy (Bower, 1981; Eich, 2008). 4

Variations in the ability to retrieve information are also seen in the serial position curve. When we give people a list of words one at a time (e.g., on flashcards) and then ask them to recall them, the results look something like those in Figure 8.12. People are able to retrieve more words that were presented to them at the beginning and the end of the list than they are words that were presented in the middle of the list. This pattern, known as the serial position curve, is caused by two retrieval phenomenon: The primacy effect refers to a tendencyto better remember stimuli that arepresented earlyin a list. The recency effect refers to thetendencyto better remember stimuli that arepresented later in a list.

Figure 8.12 The Serial Position Curve 
The serial position curve is the result of both primacy effects and recency effects. 

There are a number of explanations for primacy and recency effects, but one of them is in terms of the effects of rehearsal on short-term and long-term memory (Baddeley, Eysenck, & Anderson, 2009). 5 Because we can keep the last words that we learned in the presented list in short-term memory by rehearsing them before the memory test begins, they are relatively easily remembered. So the recency effect can be explained in terms of maintenance rehearsal in short- term memory. And the primacy effect may also be due to rehearsal—when we hear the first word in the list we start to rehearse it, making it more likely that it will be moved from short-term to long-term memory. And the same is true for the other words that come early in the list. But for the words in the middle of the list, this rehearsal becomes much harder, making them less likely to be moved to LTM.

In some cases our existing memories influence our new learning. This may occur either in a backward way or a forward way. Retroactive interferenceoccurs when learning something new impairs our abilityto retrieveinformation that was learned earlier. For example, if you have learned to program in one computer language, and then you learn to program in another similar one, you may start to make mistakes programming the first language that you never would have made before you learned the new one. In this case the new memories work backward (retroactively) to influence retrieval from memory that is already in place.

In contrast to retroactive interference, proactiveinterferenceworks in a forward direction. Proactive interference occurs when earlier learning impairs our abilityto encode information that wetryto learn later. For example, if we have learned French as a second language, this knowledge may make it more difficult, at least in some respects, to learn a third language (say Spanish), which involves similar but not identical vocabulary.

Figure 8.13 Proactive and Retroactive Interference
Retroactive and proactive interference can both influence memory.