Why Do We Forget?

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The fundamental question of why people forget has been a surprisingly recent direction of study, with German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, pioneering the studies in 1964 (Passer, Smith, Holt, Andy, Ed, & Michael, 2009). Since then, there was time for models and theories on why people forget to develop. Through the course of this assignment, key terms are defined, current models of memory are addressed, and four widely used reasons for forgetting are analyzed and discussed. Furthermore, methods for counteracting the effects of these theories are tackled and suggestions for improving memory are offered, including a controversial technique called The Silva Method. Finally, the main points of the assignment are discussed in a summative conclusion. Two related terms are fundamental to this question: Memory and Forgetting. Memory has been previously defined as the process of recording, storing, and later retrieving information and experiences (Gerrig, Richard, & Zimbardo, 2002). Forgetting is therefore the failure to perform this process. Ricceur Paul (2004) defines forgetting as the attack on the reliability of memory. Therefore, in a sense, the two concepts are deeply intertwined, where forgetting becomes a nuisance to memory, and memory becomes a struggle against forgetting. Current models split memory into four systems: Short-term visual (Iconic), aural (Echoic), working, and long-term memory. Although each can form part of forgetting, Iconic and Echoic memory are considered to be those, which allow information to be perceived long enough to enter the working memory (Logie, 1995). As of this, through the course of this assignment, forgetting is addressed in the latter two. Elizabeth Loftus, psychologist and one of today´s best-known memory researchers, classifies four main reasons for short-term working and long-term memory forgetting: Retrieval failure, Interference, Motivated forgetting, and Failure to store (Loftus, 1980). This classification is now widely used, including in current educational literature such as `Psychology: The science of mind and behavior´ by Michael Passer et al. Retrieval failure is one of the most common ways of forgetting. It assumes that memories leave traces in our brain, which if not periodically revisited, slowly decay (Mcleod, 2008). In an experiment, Gregory J. Spillers (2010) investigated this process. He gave participants two lists of words to remember. One group was told that they would not be tested on the first list, while the other group was not given instructions. However both were tested on both. Results showed that participants who were not told anything remembered the words of the first list much better. This experiment supports the `Retrieval failure´ theory. The participants who were told they wouldn’t be tested on the first list, did not revisit these memories causing the traces in their bran to decay. However, the theory has a number of limitations. The idea that memory traces decay over time is inconsistent. Some professional actors displayed perfect memory of words they learnt years ago, despite having learnt numerous new roles since (Noice and Noice, 2002b cited in Passer et al, 2009). Interference is another popular theory for forgetting. It states that recent memories are vulnerable to mental activity, interfering with the memory formation process (Wixted, 2005). Two types are identified: Proactive and Retroactive interference. Proactive interference occurs when old memories hinder your ability to learn new memories; while Retroactive interference occurs when new memories cause you to forget old memories (Passer, et al, 2009). In an experiment, Jenkins and Dallenbach (1924) used two seniors in Cornell University to test proactive interference. Neither of them knew the nature of the study. They were told to remember 10 meaningless syllables until they could recite them once perfectly. After this, one subject went to sleep while the other followed his daily routine....
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