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Retrieval cues

Retrieval cues aid memory recall. Priming activates associations unconsciously, while context-dependent memory improves recall when encoding and testing environments match. Studying in varied locations provides multiple cues. State-dependent memory links recall to mood or internal state. Understanding these cues enhances learning and memory recall. Created by Carole Yue.

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Video transcript

So anytime you call up a memory or try to think of something you learned before, you are engaging in an act of retrieval. And successful retrieval can depend on your ability to use the cues that are present around you and recognize the association between cues present at encoding and cues present at retrieval. The best types of cues are the associations that form when you're initially encoding, and sometimes you might not even be aware of these things. So for example, priming is the activation of certain associations and memory, even though you're not aware of them. For instance, if you were to read a story about rabbits, and you saw that word over and over, then if I were to pronounce the word hair later on, you would probably write down hare, H-A-R-E, meaning rabbit, instead of hair, H-A-I-R, the reason being that your memory of rabbit, even though you're not consciously thinking about this story, would prime you or prepare your brain to associate the rabbit definition of hare, rather than any other association that might come up from that sound. Another type of retrieval cue involves the context. And this is just the environment in which you encode and in which you take the test. For example, a while ago, they did a study where they had scuba divers learn information under the water or on land, and then later they could be tested in the water or on land. And people who learned and were tested in the same place scored better than if they learned in one location and were tested in another. So this is one example of context dependent memory, which when you're retrieving information, being in the same environment that you encoded that information is really helpful. However, that's not always the case. If you know it's not going to be possible to, say, study in the same room that you take the test in, what you can do is study in multiple places. So maybe you study in your house, and you can study outside at the park or at a coffee shop, and all of these different places then will provide different cues for retrieval. So when you go to take the test in some other location, then you will have not just one set of cues, but multiple, and that will actually help you, even if you've never studied in this test location before, it will help you remember more in that new location because of the variety of retrieval cues you've developed by studying in multiple locations. Another type of retrieval cue involves state-dependent memory. So the state can refer to your mood, or it can refer to any other internal state, how you are at the moment. And one type of state could be a state of intoxication. So, just a disclaimer, learning anything drunk is a bad idea because alcohol disrupts storage and encoding processes and all that. But if you do learn something when you're drunk, you'll remember it better the next time you're drunk than if you're sober. And the reason is that being drunk provides an internal retrieval cue to your brain, so the next time you're drunk, it's easier to remember what you encoded in that same previous state. However, learning things sober and retrieving things sober is much, much better for learning, so let's not do that. Other than state of intoxication, your mood can actually be a cue for state-dependent memory too. So, for example, when you're sad or angry, you're more likely to remember other times that you've been sad or angry, and you're more likely to think of other things that make you upset. Now this can be one reason that depression can be such terrible cycle, because when you're already depressed and feeling down, you're more likely to think of other reasons to be down and more likely to think of other times when you've been depressed. By the same token, however, when you're happy, you're more likely to think of other times that you've been happy or more likely to interpret other events in a happy light, in a positive light. And you are more likely to remember things that you first encoded when you were in that same mood. And you can see this in advertisements. They'll associate a certain product with a certain mood. And so the next time you see that product, it's more likely to be a retrieval cue for a happy mood, and then you're more likely to buy it. So now you know a little bit about retrieval and the kinds of cues that can either promote or impair your ability to remember something.