100 Things You Should Know About People: #90 — Recognition Is Easier Than Recall

Let’s say I asked you to remember this list of words:

Apple

Table

Peach

Window

Chair

Pear

Orange

Fork

Mango

And then later on I asked you to reconstruct the list from memory. That is called a “recall” memory task. Now let’s say I bring you into a kitchen and ask you what items in the kitchen were on the list. That is called a “recognition” memory task.

Recognition is easier than recall — Recognition is easier than recall. Recognition makes use of context. And context can help you remember.

Inclusion errors — Without looking at the the list of words at the top of the blog again, try to write down all the words that were there. Do this now before we continue. Now compare the list of words you wrote down with the list of words at the top. All the words related to things you might find in a kitchen, some were utensils and others were fruit.  There are probably some words that you wrote down that weren’t even in the original list, but that go with the kitchen or fruit, for example, you might have written down “banana”. Banana wasn’t on the list, but it is related to the list through the schema “fruit”. (See the article on schema for more information on how we use schema to think and remember).  A schema can help you remember items, but it also can cause these inclusion errors.

Making things easier — Recognition vs. recall is one of the ways that computer interfaces have changed over time. Many years ago (back before graphical user interfaces were around), people would have to recall a lot more information. For example, there weren’t pull down menus with lists of choices. You had to remember what the choices were and type them in from memory. Worse you probably had to remember what the code was for the choice you wanted and type the code in. This is a recall memory task, and added to the difficulty of use of these early systems. One reason that “Windows” interfaces are easier is that they don’t require as much recall memory. They make more use of recognition memory.

What do you think? How do more modern interfaces make less use of recall and more use of recognition?

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