The Trained Memory

Chapter IV

The Laws of Recall

Law I. The primary law of recall is this: _The recurrence or stimulation of one element in a complex tends to recall all the others._

In our explanation of “complex” formation we necessarily cited instances that illustrate this principle as well, since _recall is merely a reverse operation from that involved in “complex” formation_.

For example, in running through a book I come upon a flower pressed between its pages. At once the memory of the friend who gave it to me springs into consciousness and becomes the subject of reminiscence. This recalls the mountain village where we last met. This recalls the fact that a railroad was at the time under process of construction, which should transform the village into a popular resort. This in turn suggests my coming trip to the seashore, and I am reminded of a business appointment on which my ability to leave town on the appointed day depends. And so on indefinitely.

Far the greater part of your successive states of consciousness, or even of your ordinary “thinking,” commonly so-called, consists of trains of mental pictures “suggested” one by another. If the associated pictures are of the everyday type, common to everyone, you have a prosaic mind; if, on the other hand, the associations are unusual or unique, you are happily possessed of wit and fancy.

These instances of the action of the Law of Recall illustrate but one phase of its activity. They show simply that groups of ideas are so strung together on the string of some common element that _the activity of one “group” in consciousness is apt to be automatically followed by the others. But the law of association goes deeper than this. It enters into the activity of every individual group, and causes all the elements of every group, ideas, emotions and impulses to muscular movements, to be simultaneously manifested._

There is no principle to which we shall more continually refer than this one. Our explanation of hay fever a moment ago illustrates our meaning. Get the principle clearly in your mind, and see how many instances of its operation you can yourself supply from your own daily experience.

So far as the mere linking together of groups of ideas is concerned, this classifying quality is developed in some persons to a greater degree than in others. It finds its extreme exemplar in the type of man who can never relate an incident without reciting all the prolix and minute details and at the same time wandering far from the original subject in pursuit of every suggested idea.

Law II. _Similarity and nearness in time or space between two experiential facts causes the thought of one to tend to recall the thought of the other._

This is the Associative Law of Contiguity considered from the standpoint of recall. The points of contiguity are different for different individuals. Similarities and nearnesses will awaken all sorts of associated groups of ideas in one person that are not at all excitable in the same way in another whose experiences have been different.

Law III. _The greater the frequency and intensity of any given experience, the greater the ease and likelihood of its reproduction and recall._

This explains why certain groups in any complex are more readily recalled than others–why some leap forth unbidden, why some come next and before others, why some arrive but tardily or not at all.

This is how the associative Laws of Habit and Intensity affect the power of recall.

* * * * *

There is no department of business to which the application of these Laws of Recall is so apparent as the department of advertising. The most carefully worded and best-illustrated advertisement may fail to pay its cost unless the underlying principles of choice of position, selection of medium and size of space are understood. The advertisers in metropolitan newspapers and magazines of large circulation are the ones who have most at stake. But whatever the field to be reached, it is well to bear in mind certain facts based on the Laws of Recall that have been established by psychological experiment.

Most advertisers have a general idea that certain relative positions on the newspaper or magazine page are to be preferred over others, but they have no conception of the real differences in relative recall value. When the great cost of space in large publications is considered the financial value of such knowledge is evident.

By a great number of tests the relative recall value of every part of the newspaper page has been approximately determined. It has been found, for example, that a given space at the upper right-hand corner of the page has more than twice the value of the same amount of space in the lower left-hand corner.

Many advertisers adopt the policy of repeating full-page advertisements at long intervals instead of advertising in a small way continually. Laboratory tests have shown, on the contrary, that a quarter-page advertisement appearing in four successive issues of a newspaper is fifty per cent more effective than a full-page advertisement appearing only once. It does not follow, however, that an eighth-page advertisement repeated eight times is correspondingly more effective; for below a certain relative size the value of an advertisement decreases much more rapidly than the cost. There are, of course, modifying conditions, such as special sales of department stores, where occasional displays and announcements make it desirable to use either full pages, or even double pages, but the great bulk of advertising is not of this character.

Every year in the United States alone six hundred millions of dollars are expended in advertising the sale of commodities, and for the most part expended in a haphazard, experimental and unscientific way. The investment of this vast sum with risk of perhaps total loss, or even possible injury, through the faulty construction or improper placing of advertisements should stimulate the interest of every advertiser in the work that psychologists have done and are doing toward the accumulation of a body of exact knowledge on this subject.

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