Recollection is the retrieval of memory. It is not a passive process; people employ metacognitive strategies to make the best use of their memory, and priming and other context can have a large effect on what is retrieved.

When we try to remember information there are several different techniques we can employ. These are called Measures of Retention.


This involves digging into the memory and bringing back information on a stimulus/response basis, e.g., "What is the capital of New Zealand?" Answer: "Wellington". Recall often needs prompting with clues to help us retrieve what we are looking for. It is not a reliable form of memory and many of us experience the feeling that we know the answer but simply can't dig the information out. This is the technique we use to remember people's names, hence we often forget them.There are three types of recall:
* Free recall: when no clues are given to assist retrieval
* Serial recall: when items are recalled in a particular order
* Cued recall: when some clues are given to assist retrieval

A common temporary failure in word retrieval from memory is the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon.

Plato and Socrates on recollection

Plato can be said to have believed that humans learn entirely through recollection. He thought that humans already possessed knowledge, and that they only had to be led to discover what they already knew. In the Meno, Plato used the character of Socrates to ask a slave boy questions in an excellent demonstration of the Socratic method until the slave boy came to understand a square root without Socrates providing him with any information.

While this can "be said" to be what Plato believed, there are many passages in Plato's "Meno" where it is suggested that this is not Socrates' true belief, but more of an attempt to get Meno to become a more questioning leader. And while what Socrates believes and what Plato believes are not necessarily always the same, if we were to take Socrates' theories as Plato's as well, it would not be entirely safe to say that Plato fully subscribed to the theory of recollection. After witnessing the example with the slave boy, Meno tells Socrates that he thinks that Socrates is correct in his theory of recollection, to which Socrates replies, “I think I am. I shouldn’t like to take my oath on the whole story, but one thing I am ready to fight for as long as I can, in word and act—that is, that we shall be better, braver, and more active men if we believe it right to look for what we don’t know...” (Meno, 86b).

Socrates prefaces his theory of recollection by saying (perhaps to spoof Meno) that he has “...heard (the answer) from men and women who understand the truths of religion.” This is an ironic statement for Socrates to make, having just earlier encouraged to explain virtue in his own words.


In standard situations encountered in normal life, our ability to recognize what we know is far superior to our ability to recall it (but see Tulving's Elements of Episodic Memory for experiments where performance is better for recall than for recognition). We know a person's face, but their name eludes us. The police use recognition memory when they put suspects into a line-up or show you the book of mug shots. You will more often recognise a suspect than you will be able to give an accurate description from your recall memory. In an exam you will find it easier to answer the multiple-choice questions, because you will recognise the correct answer when you see it. However, asking you to write an answer from what you recall without any prompting poses a greater challenge.In psychology, a form of remembering characterized by a feeling of familiarity when something previously experienced is again encountered; in such situations a correct response can be identified when presented but may not be reproduced in the absence of such a stimulus.


Another way of remembering is relearning the material. You will find it comes back very quickly, even if you haven't used it for years. Have you ever tried relearning a language you haven't spoken since schooldays? How about riding a bike after not using one since childhood? Chances are these things take nowhere near as long to learn the second time around as they did the first time. The speed with which we relearn things tells us that we have the information already stored and the brain needs only to revive these memories and refresh them for use.The number of successive trials a subject takes to reach a specified level of proficiency may be compared with the number of trials he later needs to attain the same level. This yields a measure of retention by what is called the relearning method.
Relearning is supposedly the most efficient way of remembering information "(Ebbinghaus, 1885)."

Relative Sensitivity of Measures of Retention

Sensitivity refers to its ability to assess the amount of information that has been stored in the memory. Research suggests that "recall" is the least sensitive measure of retention, "relearning" is the most sensitive and "recognition" is in between "(Nelson, 1978)."

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Recollection — • Recollection, as understood in respect to the spiritual life, means attention to the presence of God in the soul Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Recollection     Recollection …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • récollection — [ rekɔlɛksjɔ̃ ] n. f. • 1553; « résumé » 1372; du lat. recollectus, p. p. de recolligere → recueillir ♦ Relig. Action de se recueillir, par la méditation, la prière. Retraite spirituelle. Se réunir pour une journée de récollection. ● récollection …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Recollection — Rec ol*lec tion (r?k ?l*l?k sh?n), n. [Cf. F. r[ e]collection.] 1. The act of recollecting, or recalling to the memory; the operation by which objects are recalled to the memory, or ideas revived in the mind; reminiscence; remembrance. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • recollection — I noun afterthought, consciousness, contemplation of the past, memoir, memoria, memory, mental image, mental picture, mindfulness, recall, recognition, recordatio, remembrance, reminiscence, retrospection associated concepts: past recollection… …   Law dictionary

  • recollection — Recollection. s. f. Action par laquelle on se recollige. Profonde recollection. recollection interieure. Il n est en usage que dans la devotion …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • recollection — 1590s, “gathering together again,” from Fr. récollection or M.L. recollectionem, noun of action from recolligere (see RECOLLECT (Cf. recollect)). Meaning “act of recalling to memory” is from 1680s; a thing or scene so recalled, from 1781 …   Etymology dictionary

  • recollection — [rek΄ə lek′shən] n. [Fr récollection < ML recollectio] 1. the act or power of recollecting, or calling back to mind; remembrance 2. what is recollected [recollections of youth] 3. Archaic a) calmness of mind b) religious meditation …   English World dictionary

  • recollection — *memory, remembrance, reminiscence, mind, souvenir …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • recollection — ► NOUN 1) the action or faculty of remembering. 2) a memory …   English terms dictionary

  • recollection — noun ADJECTIVE ▪ clear, distinct, vivid ▪ dim, faint, hazy, vague ▪ earliest ▪ …   Collocations dictionary

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