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Medical News Today: Our recall of familiar objects – like the Apple logo – may not be as accurate we think

How confident are you that you can accurately recall the features of a simple object or logo you encounter every day? Psychologists who invited dozens of college students to draw the Apple logo from memory found hardly any could recall it accurately.
six false apple logos
Six of the false Apple logos in the array the students were asked to pick from.

Image credit: A Blake, M Nazarian, A Castel/UCLA Psychology

Also, when invited to pick out the Apple logo from an array of similar looking ones, more than half the students picked the wrong one.

The researchers, from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), report the results of their recall and recognition study in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Senior author Alan Castel, associate professor of psychology at UCLA, says:

“People had trouble picking out the correct logo even when it was right in front of them.”

In earlier research, Prof. Castel had shown that office workers were not able to recall the location of a bright red fire extinguisher they had walked past hundreds of times.

Other researchers have also shown that most of us are not good at recalling details of objects we encounter every day, such as road signs, pennies and computer keyboards. Even accomplished typists can struggle to recall all the keys of a standard keyboard.

‘Just because we have seen something many times does not mean we remember it’

For this new study, Prof. Castel and his UCLA colleagues invited 85 undergraduates of the university to draw the ubiquitous Apple logo correctly from memory on a blank sheet of paper.

To the researchers’ surprise, only one participant correctly reproduced the Apple logo from memory.

And fewer than half of the participants correctly identified the logo when asked to pick it out from an array of Apple logos that included the correct amongst some with slightly altered features.

The participants included 52 who used Apple computers, 10 who used non-Apple computers, and 23 who used both Apple and non-Apple devices. However, the findings did not reflect any differences among Apple and non-Apple users.

The Apple logo is one of the most recognizable and familiar brands in the world. As a logo it is designed to be simple and memorable – so how is it that the participants’ recall and recognition was so poor?

From the earlier study, Prof. Castel had established that, “Just because we’ve seen something many times doesn’t mean we remember it or even notice it.”

We may overestimate our power of recall

One explanation for the findings is that our brains have learned it is not important to remember the exact details of an object. An efficient memory does not burden itself with the details of a corporate logo, except perhaps when it is concerned with distinguishing counterfeit products.

The researchers suggest that when there is an intention to encode the details of the logo, then people are more likely to memorize and reproduce it accurately. “However, in naturalistic settings there is probably no intent to encode the details of the Apple logo.”

They also conclude that their findings likely extend to specific memory for other logos. For example, “failure to remember the colors of the Google letters,” they note.

The team also found that we probably overestimate the accuracy of our recall. They asked the participants how confident they were that they could draw the Apple logo accurately before they drew it. Prof. Castel notes:

“There was a striking discrepancy between participants’ confidence prior to drawing the logo and how well they performed on the task. People’s memory, even for extremely common objects, is much poorer than they believe it to be.”

How well do you know the Apple logo? The UCLA team has produced this web page for you to test yourself.

Meanwhile, Medical News Today recently learned of a study that found power naps can help memory. People who follow a concentrated period of learning with a short relaxing sleep have better memory recall, say researchers from Saarland University in Germany.

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