Theories of Forgetting

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  • Created by: Em
  • Created on: 29-03-16 15:02

Cue- dependant forgetting

This theory explains the failure to remember as an accessibility problem.

When we encode a new memory we also store information that occured around it, such as the way we felt or the place we were in.

If we cannot remember the information, it could be because we are not in a similar situation to when the memory was originally stored.

If we are in a different state or context we are less likely to remember.

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Context- dependant forgetting

If we are not in the same situation as when learning, we may not be able to access the memory easily.

Godden and Baddeley (1975) demonstrated how divers recalled 50% fewer words when they were asked to recall in a different environment to learning.

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State- dependant forgetting

When we learn information, we also encode details about our emotional and physical state at the time.

Lang et al (2001) investigated the role of emotion as a state cue by inducing fear. 54 students who were fearful of snakes and spiders had their fears induced whilst learning a list of words. They found that when fear was induced for recall they were able to remember more learnt words than when they were in a relaxed state.

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Godden and Baddeley (1975) demonstrated cue-dependant forgetting in a natural environment- however, reliability of findings may have been affected by lack of experimental control.

It is impossible to tell whether a memory is inaccessible or lost. We can only rely upon accounts of experiences where we have recalled the memory later.


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Most lab research cannot really tell whether what is being remembered is a state or context cue. Music, for example, can be both. It is a feature of our environment which is a context cue or it can be a state cue as music can alter our emotional state.

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