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Forgetting in Psychology

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Forgetting in Psychology

Uh-oh. You can't seem to find your phone. Or perhaps you've forgotten your email password (yet again). We've all been there the good news is that forgetting is an inevitable part of life. But why do we forget, anyway? What are the factors affecting forgetting in psychology? Read on to find out.

The interference theory of forgetting in psychology explains the causes of forgetting in long-term memory (LTM). According to the interference theory, forgetting happens when memories interfere with and disturb one another; in other words, forgetting occurs when two pieces of information are in conflict.

During encoding, LTM may become confused or mixed with other information, resulting in memory distortion and disruption. Due to response competition, interference is more likely to happen if the memories are similar. Time sensitivity also affects the likelihood of inference. Interference is less likely to occur when there is a large gap between the instances of learning.

What are the types of forgetting in psychology?

In the following section, we will present you with the two different types of interference in forgetting.

Proactive interference

Proactive interference (PI), in simple words, the old interferes with the new. What we have already known previously interfere with information that we recently learnt, which leads to forgetting new memory.

Have you ever confused your old password with your new one? Or have your teachers ever mixed up the names of students with those from previous school years? These are examples of PI.

Forgetting Proactive interference password StudySmarter

Confusing passwords as an example of proactive interference, Flaticon

Retroactive interference

Retroactive interference (RI), in simple words, the new interferes with the old. The information that we recently learnt interferes with what we have already known previously, which leads to forgetting old memory.

Have you ever failed to remember your old postcode because you now remember the one of your current home? Or have you ever started to learn a new language that affects the memories of your mother tongue? This is due to RI.

Confusing a new language with your mother tongue as an example of retroactive interference, Katarina Gadže, StudySmarter Originals (Images from Canva)

What is the retrieval failure of forgetting in psychology?

Retrieval failure of forgetting, also known as cue-dependent forgetting, is intended to explain the failure to recall information without memory cues. Lack of cues can lead to retrieval failure. When information is first stored in memory, accompanying cues are also stored. If these cues are not there at the time of recall, you may be unable to recall information in your memory.

According to Encoding Specificity Principle (EPS) proposed by Tulving (1983), it is suggested that cues help retrieval if the same cues are present when we are learning the material (coding) and when we are recalling it (retrieval). In other words, other contextual information from when you made the memory is encoded along with the memory, such as aspects of the environment or the feeling when you made the memory.

It may be worth revising this material in the same exam hall that will be used for this exam.

What are the types of retrieval failure of forgetting?

Below we will discuss the two different types of retrieval failure of forgetting you need to know.

Context-dependent forgetting

When memory retrieval is dependent on an external or environmental cue, being in a different place would make recall more difficult or even inhibit memory recall due to the lack of context-dependent cue. Such as the sights, sounds, smells, and weather of the place, etc.

Have you ever failed to recall certain memories you have of a holiday trip? If someone mentions that you went on a cruise during the journey, this may help you remember information related to that vacation, such as which restaurant you have been to or who you went with. These are due to context-dependent forgetting.

Context-dependent forgetting, Katarina Gadže, StudySmarter Originals (Images from Canva and Flaticon)

State-dependent forgetting

When memory retrieval is dependent on an internal or personal state cue, being in another internal state would make recall more difficult or even inhibit memory recall due to the lack of state-dependent cues. For example, mood, state of arousal, affected by drugs or alcohol, etc.

If a person had lost their wallet whilst drunk and couldn't find it once sobered up, they may have a better chance of recovering the wallet when drunk again. This is due to state-dependent forgetting.

Forgetting in Psychology - Key takeaways

  • The interference theory of forgetting intended to explain the reason for forgetting in long term memory (LTM).
  • There are two different types of interference in forgetting, including 1) Proactive interference (PI), and 2) Retroactive interference (RI).
  • PI is the old interferes with the new and RI is the other way round, the new interferes with the old.
  • Retrieval Failure of forgetting, also known as cue-dependent forgetting, is intended to explain the failure to recall information without memory cues.
  • There are two different types of retrieval Failure in forgetting, including 1) Context-dependent forgetting, and 2) State-dependent forgetting.
  • Context-dependent forgetting occurs when memory cues related to external or environmental cues are absent.
  • State-dependent forgetting occurs when memory cues related to the internal or personal states are absent.

Frequently Asked Questions about Forgetting in Psychology

In psychology, there are two main causes of forgetting. Firstly, forgetting happens when memories interfere with and disturb one another; in other words, forgetting occurs when two pieces of information are in conflict. This is called the Interference theory of forgetting. Secondly, forgetting happens due to the absence of memory cues. This is called retrieval failure of forgetting, also known as cue-dependent forgetting.

Proactive interference and retroactive interference.

Retrieval failure of forgetting, also known as cue-dependent forgetting, is intended to explain the failure to recall information without memory cues. Lack of cues can lead to retrieval failure. When information is first stored in memory, accompanying cues are also stored. If these cues are not there at the time of recall, you may be unable to recall information in your memory.

Context-dependent forgetting and state-dependent forgetting.

Final Forgetting in Psychology Quiz

Question

What does the Interference theory of forgetting intended to explain?

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The interference theory of forgetting, firstly introduced by Baddeley (1999) intended to explain the reason for forgetting in long term memory(LTM).

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What are the types of interference?


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The two different types of Interference in forgetting include 1)Proactive interference (PI), and 2)Retroactive interference (RI).

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What is proactive interference?


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PI, in simple words, the old interferes with the new. What we have already known previously interfere with information that we recently learnt, which leads to forgetting new memory.

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What is retroactive interference?


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RI, in simple words, the new interferes with the old. The information that we recently learnt interfere with what we have already known previously, which leads to forgetting old memory.

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What does Retrieval Failure of forgetting intended to explain?


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Retrieval Failure of forgetting, also known as cue-dependent forgetting, is intended to explain the failure to recall information without memory cues.

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What are the types of Retrieval Failure of forgetting?


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The two different types of the Retrieval Failure of forgetting you need to know, include 1)Context-dependent forgetting, and 2)State-dependent forgetting.

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What is context-dependent forgetting?


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When memory retrieval is dependent on an external or environmental cue, being in a different place would make recall more difficult or even inhibit memory recall due to the lack of context-dependent cue.

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What is state-dependent forgetting?


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When memory retrieval is dependent on an internal or personal state cue, being in another internal state would make recall more difficult or even inhibit memory recall due to the lack of state-dependent cues.

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What is the aim of McGeoch & McDonald’s (1931) study?

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McGeoch & McDonald (1931) aimed to study retroactive interference by changing the similarity between two sets of materials.

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What is the setting of McGeoch & McDonald’s (1931) study?

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McGeoch & McDonald (1931) is experimental research carried out in a laboratory setting.

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What are the procedures of McGeoch & McDonald (1931) study?

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Participants had to remember a list of words until they can recall the list perfectly (100% accuracy). Then, participants had to learn a new list in various levels of similarity compared to the first list. They employed a total of six groups in this study.

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What are the results of McGeoch & McDonald’s (1931) study?


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The results showed that, after 20 minutes, the most similar material (synonyms) produced the worst recall, and the most irrelevant material (numbers) produced the best results other than control.

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What are the implications of McGeoch & McDonald’s (1931) study?

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The findings imply that when the participants try to recall the first word list, their performance depended on the nature of the second list. McGeoch & McDonald (1931) concluded that interference is strongest when the memories are similar.

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Why is the supporting evidence of the interference theory of forgetting praised for having high internal validity?

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Consistent evidence is drawn from laboratory research to support the interference theory. These results are remarkably robust to support the interference theory as they all replicated similar results within a rigidly controlled lab setting and eliminated the effect of extraneous variables. These well-controlled and consistent laboratory findings provided great internal validity and explanatory power on how interference lead to forgetting.

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Why is supporting evidence of interference theory of forgetting criticised for having flaws in ecological validity?

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A common weakness of the interference theory is that research evidence supporting this theory has low ecological validity. Supporting research is produced in laboratories. Participants often complete artificial tasks such as learning a list of meaningless words in the lab setting that lacks mundane realism. This is a weakness because findings generated in lab experiments can only be poorly generalised to real-life forgetting as results do not reflect real-world memory formation.

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Is interference the single explanation for forgetting?

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No, interference is not the single explanation for forgetting. The absence of memory-related cues can also lead to forgetting, also called retrieval failure or cue-dependent forgetting.

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Name and elaborate on a study showing the interference theory of forgetting in real-life application.

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Baddeley and Hitch (1977) showed the interference theory of forgetting in real-life applications. The researcher asked rugby players to remember the names of the teams they had played against during the season so far. Because most of the players had missed some matches, the ‘last team’ they played for could have been two or three weeks previously. The findings reveal that correct recall was unaffected by how long ago the matches occurred. The number of games they played in the meanwhile was far more essential. So a player’s recall from a team three weeks ago was better if they had not played since then. This research demonstrates that the interference explanation can be applied to at least some everyday circumstances.

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What is the aim of Godden and Baddeley (1975) study?

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Godden and Baddeley (1975) aim to indicate the importance of environmental settings in memory retrieval.

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What is the setting of Godden and Baddeley's (1975) study?

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Godden and Baddeley (1975) conducted experimental research in a field setting.

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What are the procedures of Godden and Baddeley (1975) study?


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18 deep-sea divers were invited to participate in this study. Participants were asked to memorize a list of 36 unrelated words of two or three syllables. Participants were split into two groups. One group did the test on the beach, and the other group underwater. Half of the beach learners remained on the beach when they were asked to remember the words. The rest had to recall underwater. Also, half of the underwater group remained there, and the others had to recall on the beach.

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What are the results of Godden and Baddeley (1975) study?


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The results show that when the environmental context of learning and recall did not match, participants performed with 40% lower accuracy than the matched group.

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What are the implications of Godden and Baddeley (1975) study?


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Godden and Baddeley (1975) concluded that the mismatch between the external cues available at learning and recall led to retrieval failure. This study demonstrates context-dependent forgetting as the difficulty of recall increases due to the lack of external cues.

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Why is Godden and Baddeley (1975) praised for having useful real-world applications?


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The understanding of cue-dependent forgetting has significant real-world applications. The theory has been helpful to forensic and police work as it helps facilitate recall from eyewitnesses. For example, Smith (1979) showed that just thinking of the room where the original learning took place was as effective as actually being in the same place at the time of retrieval.

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Why is Godden and Baddeley (1975) criticised for having flaws in ecological validity?


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Godden and Baddeley (1975) lack ecological validity. Although this study was carried out in a natural setting, the testing materials were artificial. The words list used in the study had no personal meaning to the participants and didn't resemble actual memory usage in the real world. This implies the results of this study have limited applications.

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Why is Godden and Baddeley (1975) criticized for having the risk of circularity?


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When a cue produces a successful recall of a word, researchers presume the cue must have been present at the time of learning. However, if the cue does not result in a successful recall, then researchers treat the cue as not encoded at the time of learning. It is worth noticing that no evidence has shown whether or not the cue has been encoded along with the testing material.

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Is cue-dependent forgetting the only explanation for forgetting?


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No, cue-independent forgetting is not the only explanation of forgetting in Psychology. For example, the interference theory of forgetting suggests that forgetting happens when memories interfere with and disturb one another; in other words, forgetting occurs when two pieces of information conflict.

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