Reasons Why We Forget and How We Can Improve Our Memory

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“Memory” is an essential building block in learning and decision-making in biological systems” (Chang et a. 2011). The following passages will discuss the reasons as to why human beings forget information, as well as review ways in which memory can be improved.

There are number of theories and experiments that have focused on determining why we forget the information we were at one point or another able to recount. The following section will focus on highlighting a range of medical conditions as well as theories that provide reasons for why we forget.

The loss of memory is commonly referred to as amnesia. Amnesia causes an individual to be unable to learn to new information. It is caused due to brain injury, illness or psychological trauma (Passer & Smith, 2008). There are two types of amnesia, one being retrograde amnesia and the other being anterograde amnesia. Retrograde Amnesia occurs after a person has sustained brain damage that is specific to the areas that control the sites of memory retrieval and storage (Hoz et al. 2004). Those people who suffer from retrograde amnesia are unable to recall information prior to the event where the brain damage occurred (Schoenberg & Scott 2011). Anterograde Amnesia is caused by a brain damage much the same way as retrograde amnesia. However individuals who suffer from this form of Amnesia are unable to encode new information since the brain injury (Schoenberg & Scott 2011).

Psychologists disagree about whether memories fade due to the passing of time (decay theory) or because of events that interfere with one another (interference theory). From the research that has been done into the subject of memory one can deduce that both the decay and interference theory play an important role in understanding why we forget.

The decay theory aims at explaining the reason why people are more likely to forget information over time. The decay theory is based on the idea that memories are stored in the brain. Once information enters the brain it causes neurons to become activated. The information is said to stay in a person’s memory as long as those neurons are active. For memories to become stored, a permanent structural change has to occur within the brain (an engram). The theory states that memories become less accurate over time if the memories are not regularly recalled or made use of, hence they become inactive. If this happens the structural change that was created for that memory will disappear or decay (Hebb 2002).

Although the theory is well structured it fails to take into account certain important phenomena. Bahrick and Hall (1991) argue that the decay theory cannot be supported as people are able to remember mathematical formulas and are able to replicate their capabilities at a later stage through a refresher course after a short period of time. Their studies also found that a delirious person is able to speak a language that they have not spoken since childhood.

Jenkins and Dallenbach suggest why researchers have found it so hard to prove the theory. They put forward the reason for this as being that it is difficult to have a subject learn something (that is to be stored in their memory) and then follow that with a period of complete inactivity. It seems impossible to fully blend out all other factors (that may have an effect on the memory) to be able to only focus on how the passing of time causes a persons memories to ‘decay’.

The Interference theory suggests that people forget information because memories can hinder or interfere with the one another. The two types of interferences are Proactive and retroactive interference. In 1924 Jenkins and Dallenbach investigated how the interference can cause memory loss. They proposed that what happens in a person day to day life affects a person’s memory. They tested the interference theory by giving a set of people ten nonsense syllables. The subjects then either carried...
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