Last Updated 20 Jun 2022

Memory – Forgetting

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Psychology (Memory) - Forgetting Definition: forgetting mean failure at anytime to recall an experience, when attempting to do, or to perform an action previously learned. Many Psychologists are interest in process by which forgetting take place, the researcher who found this field was Hermann ebbinghaus (1850-1909), he invented a lot of claptrap syllable in order to access a pure learning, one is the rate at which we forget. He used little or no meaning material because he knew learning new information is subjective by what we already know, therefore he decided to create a learning situation that were free of past knowledge.

The way we forget stuff is highly predictable, when we gain some new information or knowledge, the forgetting take place right away. Ebbinghaus found that he forgot significant amount of the information within 20minutes, almost half of the useless information was forget ton in an hour, and almost two third of the information was forgotten by the end of the day. In 1973 Yarn ell and lynch took this experiment further by experimenting football player immediately after the injury and after twenty minutes of injury.

They discovered that immediately after the injury the player remembered what strategy they and their team player were using but after twenty minutes they could not remember anything about the strategy; it completely disappeared from their memory. This may be because of damage also known as amnesia. Psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus was also one of the first scientists to study forgetting. He performed experiments in which he took himself as a subject to test his memory, by using three letter nonsense syllabuses. Like read about memories? Read also Flashbulb memory!

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He used different words to avoid similarities of words that he went through in past. And to this he tested his own memory for period ranging from 20minutes to 31days. His results plotted a curve, also known as ebbinghaus forgetting curve, which showed the relationship between forgetting and time. Due to this he found out that information is lost very quickly after it is learned, cause like how information was learned and how likely it was rehearsed play very important role in memories lost.

Another important point was the curve showed that the forgetting doesn’t take place until all the information is lost, its shows after a certain point the decline in forgetting curve is off. This indicates that some of the useful information is stored in the long term memory, which is stable. Earliest idea about how forgetting take place, by gradually decaying if they are not reinforced by recalling, however the idea was virtually impossible to investigate.

There may be some events that we remember very clearly throughout some years and sometime we are unable to remember thing that we do daily or see them; inability to recall accurately the things that are very familiar to us, are one of the oddest phenomena of forgetting. We do forget information because we don’t allow information to store into our long term memory, also known as encoding failures (prevent information to be stored in long term memory). In a well known experiments, subjects were asked to reconigize U.

S penny out of a group of many incorrect pennies, the result were that subjects were able to remember the shape and color of penny but forgot the minor details, and the reason behind this is that the details which are necessary for differentiating the pennies from other coins were encoded in our long term memory In early centuries of forgetting, psychologists came up with two theories, 1) Memory trace simply fades with time, this was sensible to them and most things seem to fade with time, but experiments showed that this theory was wrong.

In 1935 wilder Penfield a neurosurgeon in McGill University started an experiment. A patient lay in the operation theatre with the top of her head skull off while Dr. inserted slim electrodes in her brain, the idea behind was to trigger a little electric current through each electrode in turn, to stimulate the area of brain in which it was buried, that’s why he was able to learn about brain, which part of brain had what function.

When he sent first jolt of electricity and ask patient what was happening, patient told that he can feel something funny in her ear, second jolt twitched her foot. After sometime something strange happened, when he sent a jolt the patient reported that she was back in her childhood and can hear her mother calling her to come in kitchen and this happened around thirty year back, but she could remember every bit of it i. e. expression on her face, word spoken. All of this had been stored perfectly in her brain. Dr. Penfield continued his xperiments until 1960 and showed many times with the patients that he could bring up memories so brilliantly that subject were felt that they are reliving in bit of their past, and in this way he could listen to the stories of the subject and found what happened with them, it was also predicted that everyone of us came with a perfect photographic memory, our brain literally store each and every bit of what we do, hear, taste, smell or touch. But the question arises that with the perfect photographic memory, why we still forget things?

Only the brain in our body is the part that can’t feel pain that is because brain surgery can be carried without any anesthetic. The subject is given something to numb scalp and skull, then the surgeon drill through the skull, but in case the drill slipped or started gouge into the brain, still the subject will not feel any pain. This is a bonus point for the surgeon. Having a patient who lays there a sack of meat instead they have somebody who can tell what’s happening as they probe and snipe] In 1901 Freud discovered that the reason behind why we forget things is because we don’t want to hold back memories which are disturbing to us.

This is what called motivational forgetting, a sign of some unconscious wish, fulfillment, i. e. forgetting about the appointment with doctor. A blow or wound on head may result in loss of memory for event ending up to accident. There are two type of motivation forgetting a) suppression (a conscious form of forgetting) and b) repression (an unconscious form of forgetting) 2) Idea was that old memories are sometime crowded out by new ones. This also seems to be wrong because if incase memory push old one out then the more we learn, the more we are going to forget.

This is known as Theories of Forgetting How does process of forgetting take place and when:

  • 1) Maximum amount of forgetting take place right after the learning task is finished
  • 2) Maximum amount of forgetting take place rapidly, thought out the first day
  • 3) The first fourteen day, forgetting take place considerably
  • 4) After two weeks, the forgetting process slows down, but there is not much to forget
  • 5) It is much difficult to remember what we heard then what we read
  • 6) Sometime forgetting is not correctly labeled, the causes can be normally be


  1. a) Pseudo- forgetting
  2. b) Mental blur forgetting

Causes of forgetting:

  • 1) Duration of learning things is also a factor of forgetting. The more taken to learn stuff, the easier is to forget it
  • 2) If the lesson is half learnt then forgetting will take place very quickly
  • 3) Another major of forgetting will be an injury or shock i. e. mnesia
  • 4) Lone tiring mental work makes us mentally fatigued and exhausted, and alertness level is lowered due to which forgetting become easier
  • 5) Rest causes pauses help in consolidation, due to want of sleep cause forgetting
  • 6) “we forget because we want to forget” as we want to forget things that disturb us i. e. horror movies and sorrows, therefore we pretty soon forget them Often forgetting can be due to objective but sometime in some cases mental conditions also inherent.

Forgetting Forgetting is the inability to recall previously learned information Forgetting rate is steep just after learning and then becomes a gradual loss of recall “Generally, forgetting is viewed negatively. However, sometimes when information is no longer relevant, it is beneficial to forget so that memory does not become overloaded with irrelevant and potentially interfering information” (Bork, 1970). I. e. to remember a new number of a friend cell phone, we have to forget the old one. Forgetting intentional is studied in laboratory as DIRECT FORGETTING.

There are many alternative of direct forgetting, most of them can be classify as list method or item method (Macleod 1998) In 2008, Hourihan, presented non categorized pictures of some common objects while at study and recognition, where as in one condition the pictures were mixed with in the presentations of words in both point of experiment, and there was no forgetting effect was found in both study and recognition, there was a little effect in pictures conditions. But Hourihan was not relevant to this purpose; there was no direct comparison of direct forgetting for pictures alone versus words.

There are couples of more reason too due to which we forget information, and Elizabeth loftus has identifies four reasons, why do people forget 1) Retrieval theory: There would be a time when all of a sudden you would feel like the information that you remembered a second ago vanished away, or you feel like the information is there but you are not able to get a hold on it. It is also known as decay theory. This mean a memory trace is made every single time when a new theory is formed or new information is learned 2) Interference

It means that sometime memories compete or interfere with similar memories that were previously stored. There are two kind of interference theory a) Proactive interference b) B) retroactive interference 3) Failure to store: sometime we forget information because we don’t give it importance and the information isn’t able to be in long term memory 4) Motivation theory: (already talked about it) Conclusion: This experiments from all the psychologist shows that forgetting information varies, either it can be done purposely, accidently, due to stress and in order to sleep.

Sometime it is motivated to forget which can have a bad effect in future (i. e. skipping an important class purposely and mailing tutor about sickness and later student release that today was an important day and it was very important for him/her) It is hard to say that there could be further experiments about forgetting, as it would be really difficult to tell that the subject was telling a lie or truth taking the same example as skipping class, the might get sick letter anyhow, but how could be it proven that he really some sickness or pain.

Although it may be possible with some highly specialized psychologist, if they can make something which can help other scientist to study further in forgetting memory. However, as in 1935 wilder Penfield discovered that by sending a small jolt his subject went back into time and could feel the same way she used to, and he found out that all and every bit of the information is stored in our mind, and nothing had been forgotten even after thirty years.

As brain is complicated part of our body, therefore it would be much harder to study every bit of it, but due to research and development psychologist have came up with many experiment and discoveries, and they should motivate students to come in this field so that it can grow more and more discoveries could be made. * The New York time company: A. Explanation for forgetting: reason why we forget B. Forgetting: when memory fails * Direct Forgetting [Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology © 2010 Canadian Psychological Association 2010, Vol. 4, No. 1, 41–46] * A global theory of remembering and forgetting from multiple list [Journal of Experimental Psychology: © 2009 American Psychological Association Learning, Memory, and Cognition 2009, Vol. 35, No. 4, 970–988] * Encyclopedia of psychology [Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2nd ed. Gale Group, 2001] a) Forgetting b) Ebbinghaus Forgetting curve * Forgetting and learning: Cause of forgetting * Explanation for forgetting by Elizabeth lofthus (about. com)

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