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Forgetting (retention loss) refers to apparent loss of information already encoded and stored in an individual's long term memory. It is a spontaneous or gradual process in which old memories are unable to be recalled from memory storage. It is subject to delicately balanced optimization that ensures that relevant memories are recalled. Forgetting can be reduced by repetition and/or more elaborate cognitive processing of information. Reviewing information in ways that involve active retrieval seems to slow the rate of forgetting.
Forgetting functions (amount remembered as a function of time since an event was first experienced) have been extensively analyzed. The most recent evidence suggests that a power function provides the closest mathematical fit to the forgetting function. 
History[edit | edit source]
One to study the mechanisms of forgetting was the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus. Using himself as the sole subject in his experiment, he memorized lists of three letter nonsense syllable words—two consonants and one vowel in the middle. He then measured his own capacity to relearn a given list of words after a variety of given time period. He found that forgetting occurs in a systematic manner, beginning rapidly and then leveling off. Although his methods were primitive, his basic premises have held true today and have been reaffirmed by more methodologically sound methods[How to reference and link to summary or text].
Theories of forgetting[edit | edit source]
The four main theories of forgetting apparent in the study of psychology as follows;
Cue-dependent forgetting[edit | edit source]
Cue-dependent forgetting or retrieval failure, is the failure to recall a memory due to missing stimuli or cues that were present at the time the memory was encoded. It is one of five cognitive psychology theories of forgetting. It states that a memory is sometimes temporarily forgotten purely because it cannot be retrieved, but the proper cue can bring it to mind. A good metaphor for this is searching for a book in a library without the Library of Congress Classification reference number, title, author or even subject. The information still exists, but without these cues retrieval is unlikely. Furthermore, a good retrieval cue must be consistent with the original encoding of the information. 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. Information is available however, just not readily available without these cues.
Trace decay[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Memory decay
Trace decay focuses on the problem of availability caused when memories decay. Hebb said that incoming information creates a pattern of neurons to create a neurological memory trace in the brain which would fade with time. Repeated firing causes a structural change in the synapses. Rehearsal of repeated firing maintains the memory in STM until a structural change is made.
Organic causes[edit | edit source]
Forgetting that occurs through physiological damage or dilapidation to the brain are referred to as organic causes of forgetting. These theories encompass the loss of information already retained in long term memory or the inability to encode new information again. Examples include Alzheimer's, Amnesia, Dementia, consolidation theory and the gradual slowing down of the central nervous system due to aging.
Interference theories[edit | edit source]
Interference theory refers to the idea that forgetting occurs because the recall of certain items interferes with the recall of other items. In nature, the interfering items are said to originate from an over stimulating environment. Interference theory exists in two branches, Retroactive and Proactive inhibition each referring in contrast to the other. Retroactive interference is when the past memory interferes with the later memory, causing it to change in a particular extent. On the other hand, proactive interference is when the later memory interferes with the older memory, causing it to change.
Decay theory[edit | edit source]
Decay theory states that when something new is learned, a neurochemical, physical "memory trace" is formed in the brain and over time this trace tends to disintegrate, unless it is occasionally used.
Definitions and controversy[edit | edit source]
Forgetting can have very different causes than simply removal of stored content. Forgetting can mean access problems, availability problems, or can have other reasons such as amnesia caused by an accident.
A debatable yet popular concept is "trace decay", which can occur in both short and long-term memory. This theory, applicable mostly to short-term memory, is supposedly contradicted by the fact that one is able to ride a bike even after not having done so for decades. "Flashbulb memories" are another piece of seemingly contradicting evidence. It is believed that certain memories "trace decay" while others don't[How to reference and link to summary or text]. Sleep is believed to play a key role in halting trace decay[How to reference and link to summary or text], although the exact mechanism of this is unknown.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Cue-dependent forgetting
- Cued recall
- Experience curve effects
- Free recall
- Fugue reaction
- Interference (learning)
- Latent inhibition
- Memory training
- Mnemic neglect
- Motivated forgetting
- Serial recall
References[edit | edit source]
- Wixted, J. (2004), "The psychology and neuroscience of forgetting.", Annual Review of Psychology, 55, pp. 235–269 .
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