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Cue-dependent forgetting is the failure to recall a memory due to missing stimuli or cues that were present at the time the memory was encoded.

For example, students would sometimes forget what they had studied before an exam. This occurs because of the examination room's environmental conditions are different to the room or place where learning occurred. In addition, emotional states can influence memory recall. To improve learning, it is recommended that students should study in conditions that closely resemble an examination. A good retrieval cue must be consistent with the original encoding of the info. Meaning that if the sound of the word is emphasized during the encoding process, the cue that should be used should also put emphasis on the phonetic quality of the word (Psychology Themes and variations, pg 282)

Cue-dependent forgetting, or retrieval failure, is one of five Cognitive psychology theories of forgetting. It states that sometimes memories are forgotten because they cannot be retrieved. If, however, you are given a cue as to the memory, you will be more likely to retrieve it. A good metaphor for this is a book in the library that you don't know the reference number, title, author or even subject for. It's there, but you are unlikely to find it. However if you were given the reference number, title, author or subject of it, (cues) you would be more likely to find it.

There are two different types of cues: state-dependent cues and context-dependent cues.

State-Dependent Cues[edit | edit source]

These are dependent on your state of mind and being at the time: if you were inebriated, drugged, upset, anxious, happy, in love, or in any other state such as these when you processed a memory, you are more likely to be able to retrieve the memory if you are in the same state.

Context-Dependent Cues[edit | edit source]

These are dependent on the environment and situation: if you were cold, with a certain person, smelt a certain smell, heard a certain phrase, at a certain place, experiencing a certain type of weather, or in any context like those when you processed the memory, you are more likely to be able to retrieve the memory if you are in the same context.

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