Memory And Recall

An Apple A Day.

In our world of branding and repetitive advertising, it is feasible that we dutifully soak up visuals and messages and store them accurately in our mind’s eye. New research published in Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology tests this theory by examining our memory of the ubiquitous Apple logo and our perceived ability for recall. Blake, Castel and Nazarian ask ‘are we really paying attention?’ Their experiment reveals some surprising insights.

Apple: a logo recognized the world over, visually appealing, highly recognizable and seen by most every single day. With such visibility surely we stand a good chance of remembering it? Past research has shown that memory can be poor for daily items, our brains glossing over the details and only taking the gist.

So the question remains; does exposure enhance memory? The authors test the theory via an experiment during which a group of undergraduates (both Apple and PC users) were asked to draw the logo from memory and then choose the correct logo from a set of 8 alternatives. The study rated candidates’ confidence levels pre and post experiment. Astonishingly, only 1 out of 85 was able to accurately draw the logo and less than half chose the correct image from the selection. Confidence levels and recognition did not correlate; confidence pre task was 55% higher than post. Candidates rapidly adjusted their confidence estimates post retrieval upon realizing the complexity of the task. This striking difference shows our memory to be much poorer than we believe and highlights lack of self-awareness to our own attention lapses.

This experiment has given unique insight into accuracy of visual memory and recall judgement. The authors suggest the poor performance is due to “attentional saturation,” they note “Increased exposure increases familiarity and confidence, but does not reliably affect memory. Despite frequent exposure to a simple and visually pleasing logo, attention and memory are not always tuned to remembering what we may think is memorable.”

Gruesome Reminders.

Almost eight out of ten people cannot recall the names of the UK’s most notorious serial killers, paedophiles or their victims, despite the wall-to-wall media coverage of these cases over the past decade.

A majority surveyed by Birmingham City University criminologists failed to identify pictures of multiple killers Joanne Dennehy, Levi Bellfield, Rose West and ‘Suffolk Strangler’ Steven Wright.

Only 24 per cent of respondents recognised an image of eight-year-old Sarah Payne despite the high-profile coverage of the murder investigation at the time, the subsequent campaign for ‘Sarah’s Law’ and the publishing of the book ‘Sara Payne: A Mother’s Story.’

Raoul Moat made global headlines in 2010 when he sparked a major police operation after shooting three people in two days, yet just 41 per cent of respondents recognised him in the study. A dismal 2 per cent identified Chris Brown, the boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend who he shot dead.

Birmingham City University’s Professor David Wilson said: “Media-saturated images of murderers and their victims often dominate news agendas for days and weeks at a time but this study suggests the public seems to consume these images in a very transitory way.”

According to the study the most recognised victims and the most recognised perpetrator all related to the same case; the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in August 2002 by school caretaker Ian Huntley. Over 70 per cent recognised the victims from the photograph of the two girls wearing matching Manchester United football shirts, an image which featured prominently in the headlines at the time of the murder investigation. Ian Huntley was the most recognised perpetrator, with 51 per cent able to recall his name.

The second most recognised victim in the study was Stephen Lawrence (64 per cent). One of his killers Gary Dobson was recognised by only 5 per cent of participants.

Researchers defined the murders of Holly Wells, Jessica Chapman and Stephen Lawrence as ‘signal crimes’ that have entered the collective public conscious for specific reasons.

“The killing of the two young girls as they walked past the home of the school caretaker and the murder of Stephen Lawrence ‘because the colour of his skin’ deeply disturbed the general public,” said Professor Wilson.

The research, by the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University, used press images from ten prominent cases, including the images of victims and perpetrators, to test the public’s ability to recognise and name them.


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