Retrieval is the process of accessing information in long term memory and activating it into consciousness. The retrieved data may then be combined with other material available in short term memory, elaborated on and formed into a coherent package of meaningful information. Therefore, retrieval may be viewed as the means of transferring information from long term memory into the activated workspace of short term memory so that it can be processed further.
Several factors are important influences on the process of retrieval. One is the extent of original learning – the more thoroughly material is learned the easier it should be to retrieve. As we have seen, the thoroughness of learning is a function of the degree of elaborative processing used to fit material into a cognitive structure as well as the amount of rehearsal involved. A second factor influencing retrieval appears to be the goals involved in the original learning situation. For example evidence suggests that consumers have better recall for information when their original purpose is to commit it to memory rather than to use it to choose between various brands. A third major influence on retrieval is the context of the situation. Context is important because it contains cause providing guidance as to which portion of long term memory should be accessed. For example, assume that we hear the word ring mentioned. It is quite possible that this word is stored in several parts of our cognitive structure to represent (1) something a telephone does (2) a dirt line on a shirt collar, (3) something worn on a finger, or (4) a layer of scum in the bathtub. The context in which the word is used will strongly influence what aspects of memory will be retrieved.
As previously mentioned because concepts in long term memory are associated or linked with other concepts, retrieval typically involves bringing an interrelated packet of information to consciousness. Usually an environmental event will trigger a search of long term memory, and elements of the context will influence which mode or nodes will be activated. Other concepts that are strongly linked to the activated nodes re themselves likely to be activated, but concepts that are weakly linked or not linked at all are unlikely to be activated. The result is that when a situation initiates a search of long term memory, activated concepts as well as material they are linked to, are likely to be retrieved and reach conscious attention. These interrelated informational items may then be combined with other material in short term memory and be modified or expanded upon for use in a variety of ways. In fact some evidence suggest that consumers’ decisions may be influenced merely by the number of positive and negative attributes remembered about the brand or the number of dimensions in which one brand outperforms another rather than how important these attributes may actually, be to the consumer.
An example can help to explain the interrelationships involved. Assume that while shopping in a department store a customer asks some salesperson about a particular Zenith color television set. He is told that the set is a 20 inch table model of all sold state design. The sales person also mention that the set is mostly handcrafted and it has excellent warranty. As shown this information represents environmental input into the initial stage of short term memory. The term initial is being used here to indicate the status of memory stores at the start of some event.
As we know, information can only be maintained if it is rehearsed. The black arrow from initial short term memory to expanded short term memory represents maintenance of a portion of the newly acquitted information through rehearsal. Specifically information about the size of the set and its warranty has been maintained while the remaining items have been lost from memory.