While remembering information is important we should not overlook the important role of forgetting. If we had to keep everything in our head all the time we wouldn't be able to survive in the world. Imagine if all the information you were ever exposed to was always available to you. This would be overwhelming. It would be impossible to sort out what information is relevant and what information is not important.
Most forgetting occurs shortly after learning. The more time that passes, the less we forget of what remains after the initial forgetting. Things that are well learned can be remembered for long periods of time and are not necessarily susceptible to forgetting.
There are several theories about how forgetting occurs:
1. Decay - memory slowly fades over time, like an unused path that gets overgrown. There is not a lot of research that supports this theory.
2. Repression - the process of forcing a memory out of consciousness. This generally applies only to unpleasant personal memories you consciously want to forget.
3. Distortion - sometimes our memory is affected by what we want to remember causing us to recall something in a more favorable way that what really happened. Leading questions can also cause distorted memory. The only known way to deal with this is to be conscious of it.
4. Interference - this can occur when one memory interferes with another. This can happen in two ways:
Proactive inhibition - which occurs when past information interferes with new information.
Retroactive inhibition - which occurs when new information interferes with past memories.
5. Cue dependency - sometimes memory is dependent on having the right cue to help you recall the necessary information. Not having the right cue can lead to failure in retrieval.
Memory techniques generally focus on ways to reduce forgetting by focusing on decreasing interference and taking advantage of cue dependency.
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