Why Do We Forget?

When are we most conscious of our memory? Typically, when it crashes, we are unable to retrieve information that we require at a particular moment. Usually, memory appears to let us down just when we want it the most. For example, during an exam why does this happen? How the data entered into our long term memory sometimes wasted, at least in part, with the time? Various reasons have been proposed, so here we will focus on some of them which have got the most recognition among them.  

The most pioneering aspect of forgetting was that data entered into long-term memory fades or simply fade over time.  While this appears to fit with our individual experience, several types of research show that the result of forgetting is not just a function of how much time has passed, rather, what happens throughout that period is significant. For example, in one particular study, Minami and Dallenback trained some cockroaches to evade a dark chamber by giving them electric shock whenever they entered it. After the cockroaches had learned this easy task, they were either contained in a paper cone or allowed to roam around in a shaded cage at will. Outcomes show that the insects which were allowed to move around showed more forgetting over a given period than those who were held. Hence everything they did between learning and being held was more relevant than the insignificant portion of the time. Possibly even more unusual, different studies show that recall sometimes changes over time. So, in the beginning, psychologists refused the idea that forgetting stems from passive decay of memories over time and turned rather to a view we will consider next.

Forgetting As An Effect Of Resistance  

If forgetting is not a function of the passage of time, then what is its cause? One probability is that it arises mainly from restraint between items of data stored in the memory. Such restraint can take two separate forms. In retroactive resistance, data which are being acquired intervenes with knowledge previously present in memory. If mastering how to operate a new computer application makes you forget how to run the one you have studied before, then this is a case of retroactive resistance.

In proactive resistance, any previously acquired knowledge present in long term memory conflicts with the knowledge you are acquiring right now. Suppose you discovered how to operate one VCR, now you purchase a different one, which requires complex steps for recording a television show. If you now do mistakes by trying to run the new VCR in the same way, this generates proactive resistance.

Various evidence supports the belief that resistance plays an essential part in forgetting from long term memory. For instance, in various laboratory studies, the more related the words or nonsense syllables associates study from separate lists, the larger resistance happens between them, and the lower their recall of these matters. Still, the more modern investigation raises multiple questions regarding the view that forgetting arises mainly from resistance.

First, while resistance does appear to play an important role in the forgetting of insignificant materials such as nonsense syllables, it is far less relevant in overlooking essential passages. Memory for the initial learning of such passages is often preserved even if the passages are identical to one another and would be expected to create resistance.

Similarly, for resistance to happen, something this possibly interfering must occur in the period between initial learning and trial for memory. Yet forgetting happens even if research associates study a single list or even a single item. Such forgetting might occur due to resistance from causes outside the trial, but those have proved hard to identify. Overall, the resistance which was once seen as the cause of forgetting is no longer assigned this important role by most of the mind researchers. So what does cause forgetting? The study leads to another interesting possibility.

Forgetting And Retrieval Inhibition

Suppose you are asked to memorise the names of all the states in your country. How many would you get it right? Now, assume that you are presented names of the half of them and you are allowed to study them. Would that increase the chance to remember the remaining ones? General sense suggests that it would, but study using methods related to these shows that you would do even worse. Studying half of the states would degrade your overall performance. How? Experts define this seemingly conflicting finding as follows: If we try to retain information in memory, we may remember the details we seek but simultaneously, it causes inhibition of additional items that we do not try to memorise. As a result, these additional items become harder to retrieve in the future. So when we think the names of half of the states, we cause inhibition that prevents recall of the other half.

In short, the act of retrieval itself can cause forgetting, not of the information you remember, but of additional, related information. This event is known as retrieval inhibition, and its existence has been witnessed in various experiments. The outcome of these studies implies that inhibition generates when we actively attempt to retrieve data from our memory, which plays an essential role in forgetting.

So, these are some of the contrasting views about, why do we forget? and the science of forgetting.