Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

The Six R's of Remembering

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

The Six R's of Remembering

Article excerpt


Although complex and multifaceted, memory can be distilled into a small set of very fundamental principles-the six R's of memory. The first is receding, whereby what is actually experienced is transformed on its way into memory with the goal of establishing associations that enrich memory. The second is rehearsal, whereby what has been experienced (and likely recoded) is reviewed with the goal of strengthening memory. The third is relearning, whereby memory is enhanced by reexperiencing, without the necessity of awareness. The fourth is reminding, whereby the encoding of an event invokes the memory of a related previous event, which in turn benefits remembering. The fifth is retrieval, whereby what has already entered memory is recollected, typically with the goal of responding but also with significant implications for subsequent remembering. The sixth is reconstruction, whereby the components of episodes are assembled for the purpose of recollection and where the use of schemata and associations alters memory. Together, these six processes capture much of the richness and power of memory.

Keywords: memory, recoding, rehearsal, relearning, reminding, retrieval, reconstruction

In a century and a half of empirical and theoretical research on memory, we have learned a great deal about how this most human of systems works. As is true for any science, however, we still have a very long way to go: One of the beautiful things about learning is that it is never completed. It has been my privilege to be a part of this quest to understand what makes us ourselves for 40 years, decades that have passed with the fleeting yet indelible quality of memory itself. In that time, I have been struck by the recurrence of one letter - the letter "R." I have not felt persecuted, as Miller (1956) felt by the digit "7," but I have felt . . . watched or guided by the letter "R." So many of what I think of as the basic components of remembering - the processes that have interested me for these four decades - begin with this letter that I have decided to build this article around the letter "R" in tribute.

Table 1 contains a list of the six R's that I see as fundamental to how memory works. In what follows, I will take each of these in turn and describe in brief some of the influential research that has validated that process. This will certainly not be a thorough and complete analysis of each process - this is not meant to be a review article and anyway, each of these would warrant a review in its own right - but hopefully the centrality of each process will become evident. As it happens, in one way or another through my career, I have investigated all of these, and consequently I will also incorporate some personal examples in this sketch.

These six processes can be roughly categorized into two groups. Recoding, rehearsal, and relearning correspond more to what are traditionally thought of as encoding processes, in that they promote entry of events into memory; reminding, retrieval, and reconstruction correspond more closely to what are traditionally thought of as recovery processes, in that they promote inspection of events already in memory. I note this distinction with some trepidation because I am very much a proceduralist, influenced by the ideas of Kolers (1973) and Kolers and Roediger (1984). Under the proceduralist analysis, as we process an event, we create a record of that processing, integrating the present with the remembered past. Later, we can replay that record, which, if accompanied by conscious recognition, will produce the experience of remembering and which will also augment memory. In this framing of memory, each instance of encoding involves retrieval, and each instance of retrieval involves encoding, so that there is no sharp dividing line to separate encoding from retrieval.

Proceduralism stands in stark contrast to the more common, received view of memory based on the library metaphor. …

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