Theories of forgetting: retrieval failure

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Retrieval failure

Key assumptions and features

It is known as the tip of the tongue phenomenon.

According to this theory, your memory uses cues:

·         Context cues are dependent on the environment, known as external cues.

·         State cues are dependent on states of being: emotions, moods, drunk etc. It is known as internal physiological cues.

 Category heading cues are focused on categorisation, e.g. fruit: apple, orange, pear and banana.

·         Organisation cues can also be ordered, e.g. fruit with pips: apple, orange and lemon.

Cue is anything that acts as an aid/trigger to retrieve something from memory.

Context dependent forgetting is if the relevant environment were present when learning took place are missing when recall occurs.

An example: you learn psychology in the classroom, in the exam there are no contextual cues to possibly push on the information in an exam (in a different room).

State dependent forgetting occurs if there is an absence of psychological or physiological variables, e.g. an internal cue.

An example: you are angry during a fight, you calm down and then you can’t remember what occurred during the fight.

Forgetting occurs because the cues that were present when learning took place are missing at the time of recall.

Key study: Godden and Baddeley (1974)


To investigate if cues from the environment affect recall.


A field experiment was carried out…


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