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retrieval cues

June 26th, 2009 by Mindy Erchull

I was hanging out with a group of friends the other night and found yet more evidence of the omnipresent nature of psychology.  As we were talking about all manner of strange topics, one of my friends mentioned that he’d recently had a weird experience with Dawn dish soap.

He was somewhere, clearly the location is not something that made it into my long-term memory…likely because of encoding failure as it seemed unimportant, and smelled a scent that he realized was Dawn.  He promptly realized that he’d smelled this scent before and was immediately reminded of his time in Iraq.  He remembered a building where people would check in their weapons which contained many sinks at which one could wash up.  Apparently the soap was Dawn.  While he never knew this, it served as a really strong retrieval cue that could immediately bring up memories he was not otherwise trying to access.

Posted in genpsych, memory | | 3 Comments

3 Responses to ' retrieval cues '

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  1. psy4chai said,

    on June 29th, 2009 at 8:15 am

    There was an episode of M*A*S*H that included storyline wherein Hawkeye treated a patient who smelled damp and mildewy from exposure, and Hawkeye began behaving erratically and finally broke down. A visiting psychiatrist used hypnotism and found out the smell invoked a memory that was long buried. Hawkeye’s little brother had nearly drowned when they were children due to horseplay on Hawkeye’s part. The smell had struck the memory and although he had no conscious memory of the incident, he began to suffer from the stress of his subconscious feelings. The unrealistic side of the M*A*S*H portrayal of this sensory-triggered memory retrieval is that it developed and was resolved in a single hour. Looking at your example–I wonder if Viet Nam veterans have any similar cues with Tide laundry detergent? I recall my father recounting local children begging to trade things for “1 box Tide”–so that may have been the brand of choice for the army at the time.


  2. on October 27th, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Great article It took me forever to finally come across your website. Sometimes google makes it difficult.


  3. on November 6th, 2011 at 2:48 am

    Hey big thanks for the post.

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