4 Facts You Should Know About Memory Recall

Recall, or retrieval, of memory is essentially the remembering of information that has been previously encoded and stored in your brain. We may complain that we have a bad memory, or you might feel like you can remember things quite well, but behind it all is a very scientific approach that could help you revise more efficiently. The patterns of neural activity and how your brain processes memory can be vital in piecing together past information that you have previously been exposed to.

Memories aren’t stored in our brain like books in a library, but more like a jigsaw puzzle that disparate parts of our brain has to put together. Linked by associations and neural networks, our memories are broken up and various elements are stored in different parts of the brain. Sound complicated? Here at Pastest we’ve put together some facts you should know about memory recall; hopefully this will help you understand how to learn and remember important information for your next medical exam!


Main Methods of Accessing Memory

Most of what we remember is via direct retrieval, which means that items of information are linked directly to a question or a cue. There are 2 main methods for accessing memory, known as recognition and recall.

Remembering information via recognition occurs through the association of an event or physical object with something previously experienced. It involves a comparison of information that you are presented with against a memory, such as recognising a face.

The art of recalling means to remember something that is not necessarily present; this requires direct uncovering of information.

Regardless of this, memory is largely an unconscious process, meaning we are unaware of the brain activity that occurs when we are remembering something.




Memory Recall is an Automatic Process

While most of the time we are  presented with distractions, or sometimes we have divided attention, this typically has little effect on the accuracy of remembering memories.

In the 1980s, Endel Tulving discovered that context cues are also very important when helping memory recall. In other words, if you are in a similar environment to the one when you made the memory, you have more chance of recalling it. This can have an impact on learning, as typically recall is better when the environments are similar. This suggests if you were to revise in a lecture hall or seminar room, you may improve your chances of remembering important information.

3 Types of Memory Recall

Generally speaking, there are 3 main types of memory recall that are all slightly different.

One such type, known as free recall, occurs when a list of items is given and you remember them in any particular order.

Cued recall occurs when you are tested on the list of items with cues or questions. It is likely that with a cue, you would remember items you otherwise wouldn’t.

The third type of memory recall is known as serial recall; this is your ability to recall the items in the order they occurred, i.e. chronologically.

The Hippocampus

When we try to retrieve old memories, neocortical activity happens in the corresponding parts of the brain. The degree to which someone can remember a memory correlates directly to the level of hippocampal activity.

Neuroscientists have discovered that a representation of the event you are trying to remember is reactivated in your brain, possessing somewhat of a cinematic quality. In other words, you immerse yourself in the experience you are trying to remember, whether that be the music that was playing or the room that you were in. The first experience of this event is picked up by different regions of the brain, but it is the hippocampus that associates the different aspects to help memory recall.

With this in mind, it is no wonder that memory recall is often a complex and difficult concept to grasp, but there are ways to help you improve your memory.

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