Describe and Discuss Theories of Forgetting.

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Forgetting is the inability to recall or recognise information that was once stored in the memory and is now not available or cannot be accessed. There are four main theories to forgetting; trace decay, cue dependant, displacement and interference. Displacement seeks to explain forgetting in the short term memory. According to Shiffrin and Atkinson’s model of memory, the short term memory has certain characteristics such as limited capacity so if information is not rehearsed, it would be forgotten. When the short term memory is “full”, new information displaces or “pushes out” old information and takes its place. (Miller) Waugh and Norman used the serial probe technique to investigate displacement. They asked participants to listen to a set of numbers after which participants were given a probe (one of the numbers from the list) and asked what number came next. If the probe was near the end of the list, then recall was good. If the probe was early in the list, then recall was poor. This demonstrates that early numbers were displaced by the later ones. One advantage of displacement is that Waugh and Norman’s serial probe technique found that recall of the following number in a sequence is better when at the end of the 16 digit series. Early numbers are displaced by later ones but there are fewer digits at the end of the series to displace earlier numbers. This is an advantage as it clearly supports displacement theory.

One disadvantage of displacement is that even though it provides evidence that forgetting is due to displacement, there could be other reasons to forgetting such as trace decay where memory is lost as a result of the automatic decay or fading of memory trace. This was supported by Waugh and Norman who conducted another experiment in which they presented information at different speeds. Those presented faster was recalled better. This shows that they had less time to decay. This is a disadvantage as it shows that they could be other possible explanations for forgetting other than just displacement. Interference theory suggests that forgetting occurs because memories are interfering with and disrupt one another. In other words, forgetting occurs because of interference from other memories. There are two ways in which interference can cause forgetting; proactive interference and retroactive interference. Proactive interference occurs when you cannot learn a new task because of an old task that has been learnt. Whereas retroactive interference occurs when you forget a previously learnt task due to the learning of a new task. Both interferences are likely to occur where memories are similar. For example, confusing new and old telephone numbers. This was supported by Chandler who found that students who study similar subjects at school at the same time often experience interference. An example of interference memory would be the lab experiment carried out by postman. He aimed to investigate whether information you have recently received interferes with the ability to recall something you have learned earlier. He carried out a lap experiment where he split participants in two groups. Both groups had to remember a list of paired words. E.g. tree, jelly – moss, book – tractor. The experimental group also had to learn another list of words where the second paired word if different. E.g. cat- jelly – time book- revolver. The control group were not given the second list. All participants had to recall the words on the first list. Postman found the recall of the control group was more accurate than that of the experimental group. One advantage of interference theory is that lab experiments are used for the studies used to support the theory. One advantage of lab experiments is that eliminate the chances of extraneous variables occurring as they are carried out in highly controlled environments. This also means that they can be repeated therefore adding to the reliability of the results. Results gathered are also...
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