Memory refers to the processes that are used to store, retain and later retrieve information; these processes are known as encoding, storage and retrieval. However with memory comes the natural phenomenon of forgetting which refers to the inability to regain, recall or recognise information that was, or still is, stored in long-term memory. There are many reasons that we forget information but these can be grouped into four main categories; retrieval failure, interference, failure to store and motivated forgetting (Loftus 1999).
Although there are also many strategies that we can use in order to improve our memory. Retrieval failure is one of the most common causes of forgetting and one possible explanation of this is known as the decay theory. This theory gives an explanation of forgetting as a problem of availability – that is, information is lost completely from the memory system through disuse and passing of time which as examined by Hebb in 1949. It is biological processes in the brain which cause the trace decay until eventually the message it carried is lost.
This theory has led to further research by scientists to look at how neural circuits change when long-term memory forms and furthermore, how changes such as this could decay over time (Villarreal et al. , 2002). However it has been also been criticised in the sense that we do still recall things we haven’t thought about for a long time such as riding a bike: although we’ve not been renewing the physical memories in the meantime the memory is still there.
Also, some professional actors are able to recite lines from productions they were in two years earlier despite having learnt other scripts since (Noice and Noice, 2002b). The interference theory proposes that we forget information due to other items in long-term memory impairing our ability to retrieve it (Postman and Underwood 1973), two types of this are known as proactive and retroactive interference. Proactive interference happens when old information blocks disrupt the remembering of related new information.
An example of this would be if you changed passwords – you may continue to enter your old password and struggle to remember your new one due to the memory of your old password interfering with your ability to retrieve the new one. Retroactive interface happens when new information blocks or disrupts the retrieval of old information, for example after having your new password for two months if asked to recall your old one you may struggle to remember it. Interference can occur due to the brain taking time to change hort-term memories into long-term memories and some researchers have proposed when new information enters the system it can interfere with the conversion of older information into long-term memories (Wixted 2005). Others have said that once long-term memories are created retroactive and proactive interference happens due to competition among retrieval cues (Anderson and Neely, 1996). When dissimilar memories become related to similar or identical retrieval cues, confusion can result and accessing a cue may call up the wrong memory.
In forgetting, failure to store is also known as encoding failure which occurs when information isn’t processed enough in order to reach long-term memory. A well-known experiment asked participants to identify the correct U. S penny out of a group of incorrect pennies (Nickerson and Adams 1979). The coins appearance doesn’t serve significance to many of us meaning we may not notice specific details no matter how often we see them every day, the only details needed to distinguish pennies from other coins are encoded in our long-term memory.
We tend to notice information but fail to encode it deeply because we turn our attention to something else. Angelica Bonacci and Brad Bushman (2002) conducted an experiment where they randomly selected three hundred and twenty-eight adults to watch either a sexually explicit, violent or neutral television programme. During each programme there were nine adverts, immediately afterward and again a day later the researchers tested viewers’ memory of the advertisements. On both occasions the viewer that watched the sexually explicit and violent programmes remembered the fewest number of adverts.
One factor that could explain this is encoding failure; although all the viewers saw the advertisements participants watching the sexually explicit and violent programmes were preoccupied with thoughts about the content of the shows. Motivated forgetting takes place when people actively work to forget memories, especially of those traumatic or disturbing experiences. There are two basic forms of motivated forgetting: suppression, a conscious form of forgetting and repression, an unconscious form of forgetting.
Psychologist Sigmund Freud witnessed many of his patients during therapy to recall long-forgotten traumatic events. He recorded one patient remembering with great shame that as she stood over her sisters coffin thinking to herself ‘Now my brother-in-law is free to marry me. ’ Freud proposed the idea that this memory was so shocking that the woman repressed it until being rediscovered years later. Repression is used by humans to protect ourselves in a sense by blocking the conscious recall of negative memories.
However the concept of repression is debatable due to some evidence supporting and some rejecting the theory (Karon, 2002). Although people often forget unpleasant and traumatic events they also forget nice ones. This point raises the question whether a person not remembering a particular anxiety-arousing experience is due to repression or normal information processing failures (Epstien and Bottoms, 2002). Overall it’s difficult to study scientifically whether repression is the cause of memory loss for negative events that have occurred (Holmes 1990).
Amnesia is known to be one of the most significant types of forgetting. This occurs when someone suffers memory loss due to special conditions such as brain injury, illness or psychological trauma . In his book ‘Human Memory: Theory and Practice’ (1997) Baddeley refers to Amnesia as ‘not an all or nothing condition’ in the sense that amnesiacs can appear to be relatively normal. He speaks of a man called Clive Wearing who, after being stricken with encephalitis causing him to be unconscious for many weeks from an attack, suffered from Amnesia.
Although Clive looked healthy his Amnesia was so severe he couldn’t remember more than a few minutes earlier, when his wife left the room on her return he would greet her as if he’d just woken from his coma despite it being months after. Another type of forgetting is Dementia – when impaired memory and other cognitive deficits accompany brain degeneration and interfere with normal functioning. There are many causes of dementia one of which being Alzheimer’s disease which is a progressive brain disorder most commonly found among people over the age of sixty-five.
This disease spreads across temporal lobes to the frontal lobes and other cortical regions and as it progresses working and long-term memory get worse. Although there will be things that we forget in time there are strategies we can use to improve our memory, one of which being through organization and imagery. Ericsson and Polson (1988) researched a man known as JC who was a restaurant waiter that was able to take complicated orders from up to twenty people and remember them perfectly without writing them down. They discovered that JC had created an organizational scheme to help his memory.
He would divide customers into four categories (entree, temperature, side dish, dressing) and use another system to encode the orders in each category, for example he encoded dressing by its first letter so the orders of Thousand Island, oil and vinegar, blue cheese and oil and vinegar would become ‘TOBO. ’ Organizing information in a scheme such as this is a useful way of improving memory. Organizing information into hierarchies’ highlights the principle that memory is improved by associations between concepts (Bower et al. 1969). Hierarchies help us understand how individual items are related; as the information is processed from top to bottom each category prompts our memory for the item below it. Due to hierarchies having visual organization, imagery can be used as a supplemental memory code. Chunking is another valuable concept used to enhance memory and is when individual items are grouped together into larger units of meaning making information easier to rehearse, keep active in working memory and transfer into long-term memory.
One idea that has been proposed is that information is stored in long-term memory in two forms; verbal codes and visual codes (Allan Paivio 1969). Paivio had a dual coding theory which claimed encoding information using both verbal and visual codes improved memory due to the odds increasing because at least one of the codes is available later to assist recall. However dual coding can be difficult to use with particular types of stimuli, for example constructing a mental image of love is difficult to do due to it being an abstract concept rather than a concrete object (Paivio et al. , 2000).
Memory experts have however encouraged the use of imagery in dual-coding information. Method of loci, created by ancient Greeks, acts as a memory aid by associating information with mental images of physical locations distinct to the individual, such as their campus. If using this process the individual would link each location with an item that they were trying to remember such as the components of working memory. In this instance the administration building could be known as the central executive, an art studio (visuospatial sketchpad), the music room (phonological loop) and the newspaper building (episodic buffer).
This concept would take practise however there are many studies which support it showing its validity (Wang and Thomas, 2000). It appears that forgetting tends to happen soon after first learning information; however the time frame and degree of forgetting can vary broadly due to a variety of factors, those of which the assignment has discussed. It is a guarantee that no individuals’ memory can hold each and everything that they learn, however that doesn’t mean that their memory cannot be improved through various experimenters’ strategies thus decreasing the amount forgotten.