SECOND AIDS TO MEMORY: RETENTION, RECALL AND RECOGNITION
From: How to Use Your Mind
Our discussion up to this point has centred around the phase of memory
called impression. We have described some of the conditions favorable
to impression and have seen that certain and accurate memory depends
upon adherence to them. The next phase of memory--Retention--cannot be
described in psychological terms. We know we retain facts after they
are once impressed, but as to their status in the mind we can say
nothing. If you were asked when the Declaration of Independence was
signed, you would reply instantly. When asked, however, where that fact
was five minutes ago, you could not answer. Somewhere in the recesses
of the mind, perhaps, but as to immediate awareness of it, there was
none. We may try to think of retention in terms of nerve cells and say
that at the time when the material was first impressed there was some
modification made in certain nerve cells which persisted. This trait of
nerve modifiability is one factor which accounts for greater retentive
power in some persons than in others. It must not be concluded,
however, that all good memory is due to the inheritance of this trait.
It is due partly to observance of proper conditions of impression, and
much can be done to overcome or offset innate difficulty of
modification by such observance.
We are now ready to examine the third phase of memory--Recall. This is
the stage at which material that has been impressed and retained is
recalled to serve the purpose for which it was memorized. Recall is
thus the goal of memory, and all the devices so far discussed have it
for their object. Can we facilitate recall by any other means than by
faithful and intelligent impressions? For answer let us examine the
state of mind at time of recall.
We find that it is a unique mental state. It differs from impression in
being a period of more active search for facts in the mind accompanied
by expression, instead of a concentration upon the external impression.
It is also usually accompanied by motor expressions, either talking or
writing. Since recall is a unique mental state, you ought to prepare
for it by means of a rehearsal. When you are memorizing anything to be
recalled, make part of your memorizing a rehearsal of it, if possible,
under same conditions as final recall. In memorizing from a book, first
make impression, then close the book and practise recall. When
memorizing a selection to be given in a public speaking class,
intersperse the periods of impression with periods of recall. This is
especially necessary in preparation for public speaking, for facing an
audience gives rise to a vastly different psychic attitude from that of
impression. The sight of an audience may be embarrassing or exciting.
Furthermore, unforeseen distractions may arise. Accordingly, create
those conditions as nearly as possible in your preparation. Imagine
yourself facing the audience. Practise aloud so that you will become
accustomed to the sound of your own voice. The importance of the
practice of recall as a part of the memory process can hardly be
overestimated. One psychologist has advised that in memorizing
significant material more than half the time should be spent in
There still remains a fourth phase of memory--Recognition. Whenever a
remembered fact is recalled, it is accompanied by a characteristic
feeling which we call the feeling of recognition. It has been described
as a feeling of familiarity, a glow of warmth, a sense of ownership, a
feeling of intimacy. As you walk down the street of a great city you
pass hundreds of faces, all of them strange. Suddenly in the crowd you
catch sight of some one you know and are instantly suffused with a glow
of feeling that is markedly different from your feeling toward the
others. That glow represents the feeling of recognition. It is always
present during recall and may be used in great advantage in studying.
It derives its virtue for our purpose from the fact that it is a
feeling, and at the time of feeling the bodily activities in general
are affected. Changes occur in heart beat, breathing; various glandular
secretions are affected, the digestive organs respond. In this general
quickening of bodily activity we have reason to believe that the
nervous system partakes, and things become impressed more readily. Thus
the feeling of recognition that accompanies recall is responsible for
one of the benefits of reviews. At such a time material once memorized
becomes tinged with a feelingful color different from that which
accompanied it when new. Review, then, not merely to produce additional
impressions, but also to take advantage of the feeling of recognition.
We have now discussed memory in its four phases and have seen clearly
that it operates not in a blind, chaotic manner, but according to law.
Certain conditions are required and when they are met memory is good.
After providing proper conditions for memory, then, trust your memory.
An attitude of confidence is very necessary. If, when you are
memorizing, you continually tremble for fear that you will not recall
at the desired moment, the fixedness of the impression will be greatly
hindered. Therefore, after utilizing all your knowledge about the
conditions of memorizing, rest content and trust to the laws of Nature.
They will not fail you.
By this time you have seen that memory is not a mysterious mental
faculty with which some people are generously endowed, and of which
others are deprived. All people of normal intelligence can remember and
can improve their ability if they desire. The improvement does not take
the form that some people expect, however. No magic wand can transform
you into a good memorizes You must work the transformation yourself.
Furthermore, it is not an instantaneous process to be accomplished
overnight. It will come about only after you have built up a set of
habits, according to our conception of study as a process of habit
A final word of caution should be added. Some people think of memory as
a separate division or compartment of the mind which can be controlled
and improved by exercising it alone. Such a conception is fallacious.
Improvement in memory will involve improvement in other mental
abilities, and you will find that as you improve your ability to
remember, you will develop at the same time better powers to
concentrate attention, to image, to associate facts and to reason.
READING AND EXERCISE
Reading: See readings for chapter VI.
Exercise I. Compare the mental conditions of impression with those of
Next: CONCENTRATION OF ATTENTION
Previous: FIRST AIDS TO MEMORY; IMPRESSION