Understanding Memory: Recognition, Recall & Interference

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  • 0:02 Memory Retrieval
  • 0:27 Recognition
  • 1:04 Recall
  • 2:03 Interference
  • 3:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.

Memory involves fascinating and complicated processes. Learn the basics of two of the major ways we access information from the past, and what challenges we face in retaining everything we learn.

Memory Retrieval

Have you ever had the name of someone on the tip of your tongue but just can't seem to get it? Then, someone helps you out and tells you who it is. 'Of course!' you say, wondering why you couldn't quite summon the memory when you tried.

This lesson will help you to understand your memory in a bit more depth, focusing on two processes: recognition and recall. You'll also think about what can interfere with retrieving those memories.


Recognition involves recognizing information you've experienced in the past, often based on a trigger or cue. So, if you were to watch this video lesson again a month from now, you might say, 'Hey, I remember this information' because it's familiar and jogs your memory.

The multiple-choice quiz you will take at the end of this lesson is also a time when you will use recognition as a way of accessing information from the past. You can remember this type of memory retrieval process by thinking about how the word 'recognition' is related to the word 'recognize,' like when you recognize the right choice among the answers in the quiz.


Recognition is different than the retrieval process called recall. Recall involves remembering information from long-term memory, often without triggers or cues.

So, on some random day a month from now, your friend says to you, 'You've studied psychology. Can you tell me about some different processes of memory?' You don't have the triggers to help you recognize past information. You have to access information in your memory through the more difficult process of recall.

You can have an easier time with making use of this lesson if you have a trigger to help you remember the terms, which will make the process of remembering more like recognition rather than recall. This is why I'll recommend thinking of recall as something that can occur less speedily, or even at a crawl, compared with recognition.

Recognition can happen more quickly because you can compare information you're experiencing in the moment, with something from the past. Recall requires you to summon information yourself from the depths of your memory; a slower, more complicated process.


So, imagine you can't remember a person's name you just met recently at a party. You were introduced just a short time ago, and yet their name seems to have been forgotten. What's gone wrong? Sometimes the answer is interference. Interference occurs when we have trouble remembering a certain piece of information due to other information we've been given.

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