Essay on Forgetting: Causes and Theories of Forgetting !
In simple terms, forgetting is the inability to remember. Psychologists generally use the term forgetting to refer to the apparent loss of information already encoded and stored in long- term memory. Munn (1967) defines forgetting as “the loss, permanent or temporary, of the ability to recall or recognise something learned earlier”.
It is true that we cannot retain all that we have learnt, much is forgotten. But sometimes what we think is forgotten may not be true, because the information due to lack of attention may not have reached STM from the sense organs. It may also be due to inadequate encoding and rehearsal, or else the information may not have been transferred from STM to LTM.
Causes of Forgetting:
1. Faulty Memory Process:
Sometimes we listen to many details but we encode only portion of the information in the form of gist- and not the actual words or details, and the same will be stored. Constructive process at work during the process of encoding distorts what is stored in memory and we remember the distortions.
At that time we think we forget, because what we remember is not an accurate representation of what has really happened. Here our memory does not match events as they actually occurred.
An important cause of forgetting in everyday life is interference of learnt material. There are two kinds of interference:
a. Proactive inhibition:
If the earlier learning interferes with later learning and inhibits recall of new material, it is known as proactive inhibition. This usually happens when the previous learning is better than the present one. For example, we meet somebody in a party yesterday, today while remembering those names we recall the names of people we met last week.
b. Retroactive inhibition:
Inhibition of the earlier learning and recall by later learning is known as retroactive inhibition. The interpolated activity between original learning and its recall causes forgetting. It is called retroactive because the interference is with the memory of events that came before the interfering activity. For example, a student learnt about motivation in psychology last week, this week he learns about perception.
Now he tries to recall information about motivation but the points pertaining to perception will come to his memory.
3. Retrieval Problems:
Retrieval is necessary for recall. Some retrieval cues and reconstructive processes help in this process. These retrieval cues or remainders, direct the memory search to the appropriate part of the LTM section. Without appropriate retrieval cues, the sought- for items stored in LTM may not be found. This leads to forgetting.
4. Motivated Forgetting:
This is a kind of forgetting in which the individual intentionally forgets. However, the information stored can be retrieved and brought back to memory, but the individual does not want those memories. So he will repress them. It may be observed that generally people remember pleasant experiences than unpleasant ones.
The term amnesia refers to loss of memory. It is a kind of memory disorder which occurs from a loss of what has already been stored. There are two kinds of amnesia.
i. Psychological amnesia:
This kind of amnesia takes place as a result of major disturbances in the process of encoding, storage and retrieval. There are different kinds of psychological amnesia:
a. Childhood amnesia:
This may be caused due to the inability to retrieve childhood memories which are unpleasant. These memories may cause feelings of guilt, hence they are repressed. Another reason may be due to differences in the ways of encoding.-During childhood language and experiences are encoded and stored in the nonverbal- form, but as the child develops and learns language, the information is stored in the verbal form. This leads to the retrieval problems making the child unable to recall the childhood memories.
b. Dream amnesia:
Every individual experiences dreams. But he will be unable to recall the contents of all dreams, because many of them are in disguised form, so there will be no cues to bring to memory.
c. Defensive amnesia:
Developed to depend the self respect and to overcome anxiety. The person suffering from this amnesia may forget his name, occupation, names of relatives and all other things except basic habits like eating, drinking, talking, etc. This kind of amnesia generally takes place when the individual is in a very critical situation which may cause damage to his self- respect. At times in this condition he may escape by running away to distant new places. This is called fugue. This amnesia may last for weeks, months or years.
(ii) Biological amnesia:
This amnesia is caused due to abnormal functioning of brain. Such abnormality may be due to causes such as, a blow on the head, temporary disturbances in blood supply to brain, certain drugs like, marijuana, alcohol, brain diseases and some other damages to brain.
These problems may result in amnesia called transient global amnesia which is a profound memory loss.
It is called global because all the stored information is lost and no new memories can be formed during this state. There are two types of such amnesia — Anterograde amnesia in which there will be inability to store new information from after the incident, and Retrograde amnesia in which there will be forgetting of the past memories before the incident.
Chronic alcoholism produce brain damage and leads to a disorder called Korsakoff syndrome in which memory loss is predominant. Arteriosclerosis and Senile dementia due to age and Alzheimer’s disease caused due to brain disease also cause amnesia.
In addition to these causes-passages of time, disuse, relative inactivity, absence of appropriate stimuli, obliterating memory stimuli, emotional shock, set or preparedness of the individual, meaningless material, etc. may also cause forgetting.
Theories of Forgetting:
Forgetting is a universal phenomenon. It appears in every human being in some degree. The concern about the causes of forgetting as to how and why it happens has led to extensive research and development of some theories. Some of the important theories are:
1. The Trace Decay Theory:
It is learnt that the memory traces are responsible for our memory. These traces are also called as engrams. The memory traces are formed in our neurological systems. If the learnt processes are not used for a long time, the traces get faded. Hence, it is the lapse of time that is responsible for forgetting according to this theory.
2. Theory of Inhibition or Interference:
If the learnt material is to remain in memory for a long time it has to form memory traces in our brain. All our learning and experiences create memory traces. When more and more memory traces are formed, some overlapping of traces takes place resulting in the obliteration and interference.
Here one learning will interfere or inhibits the memory process of other learning. There are two types of interference: (a) Retroactive inhibition in which new learning interferes in the memory of previously learnt material and (b) proactive inhibition in which the previous learning will interfere with the remembering of later learning.
3. The Repression Theory:
Repression is a defensive mechanism. As explained by Freud in his theory of psychoanalysis, the painful experiences and forbidden wishes are pushed into unconscious and the individual does not want to remember them.
Though they try to come to conscious level they are pushed back or avoided consciously. This is a purposeful or motivated forgetting. We forget those memories which we do not want to remember. For example, a student does not want to remember the name of a teacher who has severely “punished him in his school days.