A study involving 60 undergraduate students confirms the value of even a single instance of retrieval practice in an everyday setting, and also confirms the value of cues for peripheral details, which are forgotten more readily.
In three experiments involving 20 undergraduate students, students were shown foreign or otherwise obscure movie clips that contained scenes of normal everyday events. The 24-second clips from 40 films were shown over a period of about half an hour. After a delay of either several minutes, three days, or seven days, the students were questioned on their memory of the general plot, as well as details such as sounds, colors, gestures, and background details that allow a person to re-experience an event in rich and vivid detail.
In the second experiment, students were given a brief visual cue, such as a simple glimpse of the title and a sliver of a screenshot, on testing. In the third experiment, students recalled the information soon after viewing, in addition to the later test.
- Peripheral details were, unsurprisingly, forgotten more quickly, and to a greater degree.
- But those given cues did better at remembering peripheral details.
- Cues didn’t significantly affect the memory of more substantial matters.
- Those who retrieved their memories soon after viewing showed no forgetting of peripheral information.
- Interestingly, these students still assumed they had forgotten a lot (confirming once again, that we're not great at judging our own memory)!
The finding confirms the value of even a single instance of retrieval practice, even without any delay. Note that memory was tested after a week. For longer recall, additional retrieval practice is likely to be needed — but it's probably fair to say that it's that first instance of retrieval that has the biggest effect. I discuss all this in much greater detail in my book on practice.
It's also worth thinking about this in conjunction with the earlier report that there's a special benefit in recounting the information to another person.