Retrieval Failure Theory

Retrieval failure is where the information is in long-term memory, but cannot be accessed. The information is available but not accessible to us as the retrieval cues are not present. When we store a new memory, we also store information to do with our situation-these are known as retrieval cues-therefore, when we experience the situation again, the retrieval cues will trigger that specific memory.

These cues can be either:

  • External/context-in the environment.
  • Internal/state-inside of us.

There is a lot of evidence from lab experiments and everyday experiences that confirm that information is more likely to be retrieved from our long-term memory system when the appropriate cues are available.

Tulvig (1974) argued that information would be retrieved better if the same cue is present when the information is encoded and retrieved; it was suggested that information about the physical surroundings and the psychological state of the learner is stored at the same time as the information is learned therefore reinstating the context and state will improve recall. Retrival failure occurs when the appropriate cues are not available.

Context (external) Cues

These are based on the setting or situation in which information is encoded and retrieved, for example, being in a particular room or driving along a specific motorway. Context also refers to the way the information is presented like in meaningful groups or as a random collection without any link between them.

Tulvig and Pearlstone (1966) got participants to learn a list


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