Psychologists believe one way the brain organizes information in long-term memory is by category. For example, papaya may be organized within the semantic category fruit. Categories can also be based on how words sound or look. If someone is struggling to remember the word papaya, she may remember first that it’s a three-syllable word, that it begins with the letter p, or that it ends with the letter a.
Long-term memory organizes information not only by categories but also by the information’s familiarity, relevance, or connection to other information.
Retrieval is the process of getting information out of memory. Retrieval cues are stimuli that help the process of retrieval. Retrieval cues include associations, context, and mood.
Because the brain stores information as networks of associated concepts, recalling a particular word becomes easier if another, related word is recalled first. This process is called priming.
Example: If Tim shows his roommate a picture of sunbathers on a nude beach and then asks him to spell the word bear, the roommate may be more likely to spell bare because the picture primed him to recall that form of the word.
People can often remember an event by placing themselves in the same context they were in when the event happened.
Example: If a woman loses her car keys, she may be able to recall where she put them if she re-creates in her mind exactly what she did when she last came in from parking her car.
If people are in the same mood they were in during an event, they may have an easier time recalling the event.