Human Memory Systems: Part 4 of 5

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In fact, simply asking someone to recall something can be considered a recall cue. There is no doubt that such stimuli as “What is your address?” or ”What items were on the list you just read?” influence what you remember. Stimuli present at the time you learn something are likely to be good recall cues, a phenomenon Tulving (1978) called encoding specificity.

The fact that contiguous or repeatedly paired stimuli make each one a good recall cue for the other explains a phenomenon called state-dependent learning. Things learned in a particular environment (indoors, outdoors.
a noisy dormitory, a quiet library) or in a particular phenological state (fatigue, intoxication, cold, warm) are often recalled better in the same environment or state. For instance if you studied for an exam in a cold, small room, you might not recall the information as well in a warm large room as you would in a cold, small one. Similarly, the bodily sensations associated with mild intoxication could serve as recall cues for things learned in that state.

In some of the earliest recall experiments Ebbinghaus used nonsense syllables such as DAK, MIF, BIP, and RUC. Because these had virtually no prior associations or meaning for his subjects, almost everything they learned about them could be introduced in the laboratory. In studies of cued recall subjects were first shown two nonsense syllables at a time (e.g., DAK-VOP, BIP-TIF, ZOX VAM) and then later shown only the first member of each pair and asked to recall the second (e.g. if they were shown DAK, they should respond VOP). Thus the first member of each pair served as a recall cue for the second member.

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