Psychologists like to make the distinction between two types of memory retrieval: recognition versus recall. Think of meeting a person on the street. You can often tell quite easily if you have seen her before, but coming up with her name (if the person is familiar) is a lot harder. The first process is recognition (you recognize the person as familiar); the second involves recall. Recognition refers to our ability to “recognize” an event or piece of information as being familiar, while recall designates the retrieval of related details from memory.
To better understand the differences between recognition and recall and why recognition is preferable in user interfaces, we need to take a small excursion into how the human memory works.