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19.2: Explicit memory

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    When we assess memory by asking a person to consciously remember things, we are measuring explicit memory. Explicit memory refers to knowledge or experiences that can be consciously remembered. As you can see in Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\), there are two types of explicit memory: episodic and semantic. Episodic memory refers to the firsthand experiences that we have had (e.g., recollections of our high school graduation day or of the fantastic dinner we had in New York last year). Semantic memory refers to our knowledge of facts and concepts about the world (e.g., that the absolute value of −90 is greater than the absolute value of 9 and that one definition of the word “affect” is “the experience of feeling or emotion”).

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Types of memory. [“Types of Memory” by University of Minnesota is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.]

    Explicit memory is assessed using measures in which the individual being tested must consciously attempt to remember the information. A recall memory test is a measure of explicit memory that involves bringing from memory information that has previously been remembered. We rely on our recall memory when we take an essay test, because the test requires us to generate previously remembered information. A multiple-choice test is an example of a recognition memory test, a measure of explicit memory that involves determining whether information has been seen or learned before.

    Your own experiences taking tests will probably lead you to agree with the scientific research finding that recall is more difficult than recognition. Recall, such as required on essay tests, involves two steps: first generating an answer and then determining whether it seems to be the correct one. Recognition, as on multiple-choice tests, only involves determining which item from a list seems most correct (Haist et al., 1992). Although they involve different processes, recall and recognition memory measures tend to be correlated. Students who do better on a multiple-choice exam will also, by and large, do better on an essay exam (Bridgeman & Morgan, 1996).

    A third way of measuring memory is known as relearning (Nelson, 1985). Measures of relearning (or savings) assess how much more quickly information is processed or learned when it is studied again after it has already been learned but then forgotten. If you have taken some French courses in the past, for instance, you might have forgotten most of the vocabulary you learned. But if you were to work on your French again, you’d learn the vocabulary much faster the second time around. Relearning can be a more sensitive measure of memory than either recall or recognition because it allows assessing memory in terms of “how much” or “how fast” rather than simply “correct” versus “incorrect” responses. Relearning also allows us to measure memory for procedures like driving a car or playing a piano piece, as well as memory for facts and figures.


    This page titled 19.2: Explicit memory is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kate Votaw.

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