Saturday, April 6, 2013

Reconstructive Recall

The article I read discussed a study that was done to determine how far a person can recall what he or she seems to have forgotten and to determine some of the conditions under which forgotten memories are reconstructed. Six subjects were asked to reconstruct a memorized poem that they once could recite but now seemed to have forgotten. They were instructed to make several attempts are recalling the information, and they did this over a period of several weeks to a few months.

On the average, the subjects remembered twice as much in subsequent recalls than they had in the first recall. Also, the more frequent the subject recalled the information, the more certain he or she was about how reliable the memory was. Although some errors persisted throughout, most were corrected in subsequent recalls. This shows that whenever possible, a person should try to make as many subsequent recalls as possible. The more recalls there are and the greater the time over which they are spread out, the more likely they are to remember more information.

These findings go a long way to substantiate the theory of reconstructive memory. It shows that we do not forget nearly as much as we think we do, and we reconstruct our memories when we try to remember them. It also shows that the recall time, which has not always been a considered factor in other memory experiments, is probably just as important in measuring memory as the time spent learning the material.

This study made me wonder why delaying recall time allows someone to remember more, when they are even further away in time from their first experience of the event or the information memorized. I would assume that this is because the subject is exposed to new information that has a correlation to the memory, and that brings that forgotten information to the subject's attention. We've all had experiences where seeing something or talking to someone has reminded us of something we thought we had forgotten.

This information can be helpful when teaching students in a classroom. For example, if a teacher asked the right questions about the subject which the student seems to have forgotten, he or she would begin to recall it. Likewise, if all the information a student needs to study could be related to one another, he or she would have to study less because the correlation would allow the memory to be reconstructed.

However, one thing that seems to be a problem with remembering this way, is that it lends itself to a lot of errors. Although the more you recall, the more sure you are that what you remember is correct, that doesn't make it true. In fact, being more sure about the memory only makes it harder to realize that you may make an incorrect correlation and recalled something incorrectly. Memory is not perfect, and often times, our memories are skewed by other experiences. This is seen all the time in eyewitness testimony, where a person is certain that someone committed a crime, only to find out later they did not through DNA testing. This is probably because by seeing the person, they unconsciously incorporated them when reconstructing the memory, and they became ingrained in that memory. Thus, I think that more studies should be done on how outside information influences the reconstruction of memory and why there is so much room for error.

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