This section is from the book "Applications of Psychology to the Problems of Personal and Business Efficiency", by Warren Hilton. Also available from Amazon: Psychology and Achievement - Applied Psychology 12 Volume Set.
The primary law of recall is this: The recurrence or stimulation of one element in a complex tends to recall all the others.
In our explanation of "complex" formation we necessarily cited instances that illustrate this principle as well, since recall is merely a reverse operation from that involved in "complex" formation.
For example, in running through a book I come upon a flower pressed between its pages. At once the memory of the friend who gave it to me springs into consciousness and becomes the subject of reminiscence. This recalls the mountain village where we last met. This recalls the fact that a railroad was at the time under process of construction, which should transform the village into a popular resort. This in turn suggests my coming trip to the seashore, and I am reminded of a business appointment on which my ability to leave town on the appointed day depends. And so on indefinitely.
Far the greater part of your successive states of consciousness, or even of your ordinary "thinking," commonly so-called, consists of trains of mental pictures "suggested" one by another. If the associated pictures are of the everyday type, common to everyone, you have a prosaic mind; if, on the other hand, the associations are unusual or unique, you are happily possessed of wit and fancy.
These instances of the action of the Law of Recall illustrate but one phase of its activity. They show simply that groups of ideas are so strung together on the string of some common element that the activity of one "group" in con-sciousness is apt to be automatically followed by the others. But the law of association goes deeper than this. It enters into the activity of every individual group, and causes all the elements of every group, ideas, emotions and impulses to muscular movements, to be simultaneously manifested.
There is no principle to which we shall more continually refer than this one. Our explanation of hay fever a moment ago illustrates our meaning. Get the principle clearly in your mind, and see how many instances of its operation you can yourself supply from your own daily experience.
So far as the mere linking together of groups of ideas is concerned, this classifying quality is developed in some persons to a greater degree than in others. It finds its extreme exemplar in the type of man who can never relate an incident without reciting all the prolix and minute details and at the same time wandering far from the original subject in pursuit of every suggested idea.
Similarity and nearness in time or space between two experiential facts causes the thought of one to tend to recall the thought of the other.
This is the Associative Law of Contiguity considered from the standpoint of recall. The points of contiguity are different for different individuals. Similarities and nearnesses will awaken all sorts of associated groups of ideas in one person that are not at all excitable in the same way in another whose experiences have been different.
The greater the frequency and intensity of any given experience, the greater the ease and likelihood of its reproduction and recall.
This explains why certain groups in any complex are more readily recalled than others - why some leap forth unbidden, why some come next and before others, why some arrive but tardily or not at all.