trace decay theory

if your strugling this should help it simlifies it slightly and makes sense of it all :)

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Trace decay theory of forgetting
This theory suggests STM can only hold information for between 15 and 30 seconds unless it is
rehearsed. After this time the information decays (fades away). This explanation of forgetting in
short term memory assumes that memories leave a trace in the brain. A trace is some form of
physical and/or chemical change in the nervous system. Trace decay theory states that forgetting
occurs as a result of the automatic decay or fading of the memory trace. Trace decay theory focuses
on time and the limited duration of short term memory.
No one disputes the fact that memory tends to get worse the longer the delay between learning and
recall, but there is disagreement about the explanation for this effect. According to the trace decay
theory of forgetting, the events between learning and recall have no affect whatsoever on recall. It
is the length of time the information has to be retained that is important. The longer the time, the
more the memory trace decays and as a consequence more information is forgotten.
There is very little direct support for decay theory as an explanation for the loss of information from
short-term and long-term memory. One of the problems with decay theory is that it is more or less
impossible to test it. In practice, it is not possible to create a situation in which there is a blank period
of time between presentation of material and recall. Having presented information participants will
rehearse it. If you prevent rehearsal by introducing a distracter task, it results in interference.
Decay theory has difficulty explaining the observation that many people can remember events that
happened several years previously with great clarity, even though they haven't thought about them
during the intervening period. If our memories gradually decayed over time, then people should not
have clear memories of distant events which have lain dormant for several years. However, there is
evidence to suggest that information is lost from sensory memory through the process of decay
(Sperling, 1960).
There are a number of methodological problems confronting researchers trying to investigate the
trace decay theory. One of the major problems is controlling for the events that occur between
learning and recall. Clearly, in any real-life situation, the time between learning something and
recalling it will be filled with all kinds of different events. This makes it very difficult to be sure that
any forgetting which takes place is the result of decay rather than a consequence of the intervening
events. Support for the idea that forgetting from short-term memory might be the result of decay
over time came from research carried out by Brown (1958) in the United Kingdom, and Peterson and
Peterson (1959) in the United States. The technique they developed has become known as the
Brown-Peterson task.
Study's to look at...
Brown 1958 Jenkins and Dallenbach 1924
Peterson and Peterson 1959 Hebb 1949
Sperling 1960 Baddeley
Ebbinghaus 1885

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