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Congruent Memory

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Congruent memory (also called state-dependent learning according to The Other Wiki) is the idea that someone who learns something in a certain environment or emotional or physical state is more likely to remember what they've learned when in that same state. For example, if a rat learns its way through a certain maze while drugged, it may be able to run the maze only while drugged — or if you study for your math test while listening to a certain song, you may be more likely to remember the formulae when listening to that song.

When this phenomenon shows up in fiction, it's often played for comedy: Usually a character will have to precisely replicate the circumstances in which he or she learned something in order to be able to recall it, or the circumstances themselves will be somewhat bizarre (or both). Often an unintended consequence of Imposed Handicap Training, where the character can now only do the task with the training handicap.

While this is a legitimate idea in modern psychology, it's never taken to the absurd levels that fiction shows.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Matsuri of Ayakashi Triangle has worn fundoshi with all his outfits ever since he decided to become an exorcist ninja. Consequently, changing to a different type of underwear initially negates his superhuman agility, leaving him too clumsy to clear a vault in gym class.
    What's wrong with me? I can't do anything right. My lower body feels weak.
  • In book 9 of the Girls Bravo manga, Lethal Chef Kirie is taught how to cook properly by Fukuyama. Problem, since he's a Lovable Sex Maniac, he forces her to do so while wearing a Naked Apron. In the end, Kirie can only cook edible stuff while nude under her apron.
  • Lucy-May of the Southern Rainbow: Lucy-May loses her memory after taking severe head damage from a horse-drawn carriage. Becuase this is the 1800s, cameras and identity documents don't exist yet, hence Lucy being unable to trace her true origins. However, she regains her memory when she returns to the scene of the accident and witnesses Little, her pet dingo. Little jogs her memory and she suddenly remembers that she's a Popple.
  • Ranma : Tatewaki Kunō once learns an absolutely devastating Tornado Move that can beat even Ranma Saotome after some Training from Hell. Problem is, it is intended purely as a watermelon-cutting move, and Tatewaki is only able to use it if there are watermelons around to target. He was only able to use it on (female) Ranma because he was wearing a watermelon-print swimsuit.

    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics
    • There was one Betty and Veronica comic where Veronica was studying for a test while lying on the floor of her room. When the day of the test came around, she couldn't remember any of the information — until she lay down on the floor of the classroom in the same position she'd studied in.
    • In another Archie Comics story, Jughead could throw snowballs easily, but couldn't get the same feeling when handling a normal baseball.
    • In the same vein, Jughead was once scouted for the opera thanks to his bombastic singing voice — unfortunately, he only sang well in enclosed spaces because he did most of his singing in the bathtub.
  • One of Tina's Pals could only study while listening to music. The louder the better. When it was time to take the test, the teacher wouldn't allow any noise and he forgot everything.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Used almost by name (Fink calls it his "theory of Drunken Recall") in Beerfest. Jan Wolfhouse has to get utterly plastered to recall how to get to the secret underground beer-drinking contest. He still can't yodel, though.
  • In Iron Eagle, Doug Masters learned to fly in an F16 simulator, while listening to his favorite rock tunes on his Walkman. Turns out that as long as he's got his music to listen to, he's a great pilot; without the music, he sucks.
  • In Akeelah and the Bee, Akeelah practices spelling while jumping rope. During the spelling bee, she has to jump to remember a particularly difficult word.
  • In City Lights, a millionaire regards Charlie Chaplin as his best buddy when drunk, but as a vagrant stranger when sober.

  • In the Robert A. Heinlein novel Glory Road, when Rufo gives Oscar a shave, he tells him he can't shave someone who's sitting up because he learned shaving by preparing corpses for burial.
  • One of the pieces in Douglas Adams' The Salmon of Doubt says this is why you can't remember your New Year's resolutions. When you write them and put them away, you're in a post-party state: stuffed, hungover, dehydrated, possibly ashamed. Once you're back to normal, you forget them until the next time you're in the same state, next New Year's Day.
  • Marcel Proust's mammoth novel In Search of Lost Time is centered on the flood of memories triggered by the scent of a madeleine (a particular kind of cookie).
  • In The Ghost Brigades, the character Jared is a failed copy of the main villain who gradually recovers the villain's memories over the course of the book, triggered by congruent experiences. The first time it happens involves food, causing another character to namecheck Remembrance of Things Past.
  • Cam Jansen, a girl detective from a series of kids' books, says "Click!" when hunting for clues, then later repeats it to help herself remember the details of what she saw. This is explained as her having a "photographic memory," but is closer to this trope in practice. Because "Cam" is short for "Camera", see?
  • In the tale of Ali-Baba and the Forty Thieves from Arabian Nights, a tailor is blindfolded and led to a certain house where the protagonist is hiding. When Ali-Baba's men try to discover the house, they blindfold the tailor and he is able to find it again.
  • In The Wheel of Time, channelers' habits of using certain hand gestures while preparing Weaves of the One Power are explained as deeply ingrained muscle memory. One powerful channeler observes that almost nobody can prepare a fireball — otherwise an exceptionally simple Weave — without making some sort of throwing motion, simply because everybody learns to associate the hand gesture with the Weave.
  • In Microserfs, the first time Daniel heard the English Beat version of "Tears of a Clown" on the radio was also the first time he saw a house on fire, so now in his mind the two are always connected; whenever he hears the song, he always is reminded of the fire, and whenever he sees a building on fire he's reminded of that song.
  • In the Starwolf books by Edmond Hamilton, the third part has the heroes ask an alien about the city they are going to, and he claims he had always been there drunk, and might have trouble remembering details while sober. Dilullo knows this is nothing more than an attempt to get some free drinks out of him, but plays along.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Friends, Joey practices for a commercial by repeating, "Mmmm, soup," while eating tomato soup. When auditioning for the commercial, they use a bowl of noodle soup and he is unable to get the simple "Mmmm, soup" line right.
  • Malcolm in the Middle:
    • In an episode, Hal goes bowling and gets a strike in his first frame. By replicating the circumstances of that first throw, he manages to keep getting strikes every time. As he proceeds toward a perfect game, he becomes increasingly obsessed with not allowing anything to change, to the point where he won't allow a random bystander to go to the bathroom, because his leaving would change something and risk breaking the streak.
    • There was another episode where Francis teaches Otto to waltz, to surprise Gretchen on their anniversary. But when the moment comes, Otto fails miserably. He comes to realize he could only waltz with Francis.
  • Played for a non-comedic (although somewhat absurd) bent in the Season 4 finale episodes of House, where the good doctor tries to fight the amnesia that is crippling his ability to diagnose what may be afflicting victims of a bus crash he just survived. Ultimately subverted in that he chooses to just fry his frontal lobe with electricity to induce the memories (and a seizure — that should have shredded his brain, what with the wires inside it).
  • In Heroes, initially Isaac Mendez could only use his precognition powers while drugged on heroin. However, he later learned how to use them without it. And since everyone else who's acquired that power since has been perfectly able to use it straight away, one suspects it was a Magic Feather. A different character has a similar problem with alcohol.
  • In the "Get Down, Study-udy-udy" episode of Hannah Montana, Miley creates a song and dance to help her remember all 206 bones in the human body. On the day of the test, she can't remember them because she can't dance and sing.
  • On Fringe, Walter Bishop frequently requests different foods while recreating his old experiments; his son Peter explains to Agent Dunham that he's trying to recover his memories. Often these food requests are for commercial food products that are no longer in production, leading to Walter purchasing multiple brands trying to find the one that comes closest.
  • One episode of Dharma & Greg features Larry, Dharma's post-hippy memory trainwreck father, regaining his memory every time he smells Hai Karate.
  • In the M*A*S*H episode where Father Mulcahy is volunteered to race the 8063's chaplain for charity, Mulcahy's training sequence includes jump rope. It wouldn't be odd if he didn't have to do it to a schoolyard rhyme.
  • An episode of Charlie's Angels has the Angels undercover at a 10K footrace. Kris sees something important but when talking to Bosley about it she doesn't remember exactly what, so she starts running in place. When Bosley asks what she's doing, Kelly tells him she's "jogging her memory."
  • In the White Collar episode "Controlling Interest", Neal is drugged with a substance called "Goodnight, Cinderella" by a crooked psychiatrist and apparently interrogated. To remember what happened, Neal lets Mozzie drug him again. It works, but the effects make him impulsive and suggestible. Neal ends up nearly spilling all his secrets to Peter.
  • Brought up in an episode of NCIS. Tony is interviewing a pair of witnesses who had been drinking wine while a getaway was happening. They don't get drunk, but he does encourage them to sniff the wine, and its fragrance helps them recall more details.
  • In the Mr. Bean episode "Mr. Bean Goes To Town" Mr. Bean has his camera stolen by a thief but manages to catch him by placing a wastebasket over his head and poking him with a pencil. Later on when he is asked to identify the thief in a police lineup he identifies him by poking him with a pencil while he has a wastebasket over his head.
  • In one episode of Raising Hope, Jimmy finds out that he used to be a Child Prodigy at the piano when he was a young teen, until one day he got hit in the head by a flying golf club and forgot all his talents. Then it turns out Jimmy can still play piano when he's drunk, meaning he was drinking as a child all those years ago.

    Video Games 
  • Played for laughs in Assassin's Creed: Valhalla. A viking couple has been having some marital troubles and only ever had any affection while they were raiding and pillaging. Eivor offers to light the spark by trashing their home. It's a start, but then to do one better, they light the couple's house on fire! That's enough to set the spark back in their marriage.

    Web Animation 
  • In Red vs. Blue, Donut tries to recount to Grif the things he did during the day that led to him losing an important part for Simmons' cyborg operation. Among these steps was him asking himself where he could hang out with no pants on.

    Web Comics 
  • Tedd of El Goonish Shive is better at cooking when female. He only cooks when his dad is out of the house and he'll take any opportunity to be a girl while his dad isn't around, so the two things coincided a lot. He is, however, fully aware of how absurd this is. (The gender bending part, not congruent memory as a whole.) This doesn't stop him in the slightest.
  • In Funny Farm, Ront's brother Pom keeps failing tests due to being Distracted by the Sexy. Ront creates a revision technique where he associates what he needs to learn with the female anatomy. This works fine, except after the test Pom finds it also works backwards and he can't stop thinking about his schoolwork when admiring a woman.

    Western Animation 
  • Spongebob Squarepants:
    • SpongeBob practices driving while blindfolded. When it comes time for him to take his driving test, he finds he can't drive without the blindfold. Oddly this one provides a justification: when he can see what he's doing, it terrifies him. When he is blinded by Patrick's pants partway through the exam, he can drive better again, but it's not enough to salvage his already abysmal score from wrecking the town earlier.
    • Another episode had him forget where he put his nametag. So he repeats his morning routine ad infinitum, exactly, until he remembers. If only he remembered to take off his pants before repeating his morning routine, he would've found his nametag.
  • In an episode of Arthur, Arthur practices for a spelling bee by singing the word "aardvark". Then, when the time comes to spell the word for the bee, he does the same little song.note 
  • In Family Guy, Peter could play the piano only when plastered. However, it wasn't a straight example of this trope. They didn't suggest this idiosyncrasy was because he learned to play the piano while drunk. Instead, apparently without learning to play or practicing beforehand, he just inexplicably developed a talent for playing the piano that required him to be drunk.
  • And in an episode of American Dad!, Roger sells a Senator's daughter to a drug lord and can't remember who he is or where to find him because he's always high when they interact. Sure enough, taking a hit enables him to give perfectly lucid directions.
  • On Hey Arnold!, Grandpa learned to play golf by watching a video presented in rhyme. He could then only hit the ball correctly if he first recited one of the rhymes. When he came to a particularly daunting hole that the video didn't cover, he made up his own rhyme, and was still successful.
  • Averted on South Park: Towelie claims that, since he was high when he learned the passcode to enter the secret government base, he needs to get high in order to remember it. Once he does get high, all he manages to do is pound on the front door keypad to reproduce the Epic Riff from "Funkytown".
  • The Flintstones
    • In one episode, Fred took ballet lessons to improve his bowling skills, and then finds that he can only bowl perfectly to ballet music.
    • In another episode, Fred and his friends from work try to form a barbershop quartet in order to land an advertising gig, and find that Barney is a great singer... but only when he's in the bathtub. Fortunately, they end up managing to work the bathtub into their routine.
  • Archer: During the "Heart of Archness" trilogy Cyril gets drunk and moves all of the agency's money into a private bank account. When he sobers up the next morning he's horrified by what he's done but can't remember the password to the private account, and without it he can't put the money back. Pam suggests he get drunk again because once he's in the same state of inebriation he'll be able to remember the password.