An unwrapped pile of postcards, letters and a key.

Recall and recognition are the two ways to retrieve information from your memory. The difference is that recognition involves a cue, while recall does not.


Recognition is a response to a sensory cue. When you see something, you compare it to information stored in your memory, and if you find a match, you "recognize" it.

Recognition Example

A police lineup is a classic exercise in recognition. You look at several people, and compare each to the person you saw commit the crime.


Recall is the retrieval of information from memory without a cue. There is a question, and you must search your memory for the answer.

Recall Example

Say that instead of looking at a lineup, you have to describe the person you saw to a sketch artist. This is an exercise in recall. The artist may try to help your recollection by asking questions, but ultimately you have to find the information yourself.


Because it is cued, recognition is easier than recall. A simple illustration of this is recognizing a familiar face almost instantly, but struggling to come up with the person's name.