Recognition vs Recall: Definitions & Differences Video

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  • 0:01 Memory
  • 0:54 Recognition
  • 2:38 Recall
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

In this lesson, we will explore the different levels of memory and why there are some things that come really easily to mind and why other things are difficult to remember.


Whenever you think about something, you are putting together memories. Even me reading this right now, I am remembering the sound we have placed with each little squiggle. Each squiggle joins others to form words. These squiggle-words have meaning. So many things are memory, and we do it all so casually and without a second thought.

Now, this is kind of a silly example of one of the many things memory can do. But I wanted to throw it in there because we forget how all-encompassing memory is. Memory is a process of encoding, storing and retrieving perceptions. From reading words to listening to someone speak and understanding what they're saying, all of it has to do with memory and what we perceive. In the rest of this lesson, I would like to look at two different kinds of memory: recognition and recall.


Recognition is memories and perceptions that do not require depth of processing. Brain systems are extremely complicated and one idea that was put forth by psychologists Fergus Craik and Robert Lockhart is depth of processing, sometimes called level of processing, which is the amount of mental effort required to obtain information. All of this information is about to come together.

Let's put a few pictures on the screen.

Images of President Obama, President Washington, an orange and the USA

Furthermore, if you live anywhere near a modern grocery store, you know what an orange is. If you didn't live in the here and now, and maybe lived 100 or 200 years ago, the orange would be a little more difficult, if not impossible, to recognize because they would have popped up so rarely in your life. Of interest to us right now is the bottom right hand corner. The image is extremely complex, extremely detailed and instantly recognizable as the United States. Despite the complexity of the image, you did not have to put in too much cognitive effort to recognize any of them.

What about this?

H2O molecule


Recall is the memory or perception placed in long-term storage, requiring a higher depth of processing. Recall is the buried deep facts that sometimes you don't even remember how the information was put into your head. Remember the depth of processing and that recall is a higher energy and higher concentration demand than recognition.

Recall and our long-term memory is an adaption humans have. It has allowed us not only to survive hundreds of thousands of years of drought, little ice ages and heavy storms, but to thrive in them. Our memory has allowed us to build an empire of information, to create machines so complex they are leaving the solar system. We humans have the ability to recall events outside of our current space and time and to learn things that we have never truly experienced.

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