Cognition, Memory and Perception

Forgetting is the inability of a person to retrieve, recall or recognize information that was stored or still stored in long term memory. (McLeod, S. A. 2008). In terms of short term memory, forgetting is caused by interference between past and new information that most modern accounts that holding on to. In some older models, forgetting is explained using a process of passive deterioration of information. Comparing both accounts, interference seems to have a better explanation of forgetting.

Secondly in terms of long term memory, forgetting occurs when one fails to remember and unable to reactivated the memory circuit of given information.

In general, forgetting seems to happen in between short term and long term memory. It will occur when information is to be encoded or information is not linked to any memory circuit through interference. (“What is forgetting in psychology? ”, 2008). However, nowadays, there are theories of forgetting in cognitive psychology that are still difficult to test by researches, because one may in fact not forget, but have trouble retrieving information from one’s memory storage.

For examples, one forgets about an event such as attending a friend’s birthday party just because the individual were only remembering another event that is more important to him such as a wedding dinner. The examples of the theories of forgetting are encoding failure, decay theory, interference theory, retrieval failure, motivated forgetting and repression. The author of this paper will going to critically asses on the psychological theories on why people forget. According to Freud (1901), the father of the psychoanalytic school, believed that one will forget of what threatens them.

Top Writers
Verified expert
5 (298)
Prof Evander
Verified expert
4.8 (654)
Prof. Clara
Verified expert
5 (345)
hire verified writer

For example, experiences that express in abusing, horrifying, hurtful, tense and ego-dissatisfying will pushed back to the unconscious. Based on the opinion of writer on this paper, it is not necessarily that one just forgets about what threatens them but also forgets the information that does not seem important to them. This scenario is similar to the theory of encoding failure whereas the particular information in short term memory that did not manage to encode in the long term memory and the information did not enter to the memory. Besides that, encoding failure also can be result of stress.

Based on Yerkes-Dodson Law, too much stress results can cause performance to decline, sometimes sharply if cognitive or nervous breakdown is triggered. A downturn can also be caused by excessive attention to a task such that extra factors that are important get missed. Secondly, the decay theory, this theory suggests that memory traces in the brain will fade over time through lack of use and become inaccessible. Decay theory suggest that forgetting is a psychological process and it is an idea that when a memory has a physical or chemical trace of the experience in the brain when it is laid down.

This traces will fade as time passes unless it is reinforced through repeated times of use. For example, when a person meets a new friend, the name of the friend is just like a trace to the brain. But when the person did not manage to meet up with that new friend for a few days, the name of the friend will slowly decay and might not recall it after. However, researchers have not shown that decay theory causes forgetting of something that is stored in the long term memory.

In addition, based on the author’s opinion, memory such as driving skills, riding bicycle skills and swimming skills would not decay even though after a period of time, not every memory trace will fade over time. Some studies of the hippocampus have shown a pattern of rapid and then gradual decline of neutral pathways by Anderson (1995).Besides that, there are two types of the interference theory that is, proactive interference and retroactive interference. The definition of the proactive interference is when old information interferes with the new information that cause forgetting.

Example of proactive interference theory is when a person who learned many formulas in additional mathematics for a year and learned new sets of formulas for modern mathematics for a month and the person will interfere with the knowledge of additional mathematics while doing modern mathematics. On the other hand, retroactive interference occurs when new information learned interfere with the old information that stored in the memory.

Remembering the names of the new students by a lecturer is an example of retroactive interference where the new students name will nterfere with the names that were previously stored. However, researches pointed out that real life interference might not occur so readily. The retrieval failure theory was proposed by (Tulving & Thomson 1973). This theory is known as a cue dependent forgetting that explains forgetting as inability to retrieve material due to an absence of the right cues. In order that one person to retrieve information from the long-term memory, they must depend on the type of cue or prompt which they use and this theory explained that why sometimes that one who unable to remember the material that is certain in our memory.

For example, a person cannot remember doing his homework until him or her saw the workbook on the table. This proves that the workbook provide the right retrieval cue. According to Freud (1901), the retrieval of the repressed memories is possible only under special circumstances using a few psychoanalytic techniques. On the other hand, there is a tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon (TOT) that could help one to retrieve forgotten memories. TOT is an example of how we intentionally search for cues that will prompt the retrieval of a specific memory.

For example, a person that forgets their neighbor pet’s name and only remembers the dumbbell which hangs around the neck of the pet. By reading the word dumbbell, TOT assists the person to recall that the neighbor pet’s name was Dumble. Furthermore, the motivated forgetting is a case of retrieval failure referred to Freud, (1901). What it actually meant by motivated forgetting? According to Freud (1901), motivated forgetting is that we are motivated to forget the events or actions that is painful that cannot be solve in the memory by pushing it into the subconscious and actively repressing with it.

In other words, these experiences are repressed in the unconscious and unable to retrieve when needed. Besides motivated forgetting causes oneself repression of memory, it is possible that one forgets is based on instructions of others and also known as the intentional forgetting or directed forgetting. Anderson, Baddeley and Eysenck (2009) stated that intentional forgetting also refers to forgetting which is initiated by a conscious goal to forget. McNally, Clancy, and Schacter (2001) also stated that loss of autobiographical memories, especially memories for unpleasant or disturbing events has used to explain the intentional forgetting.

However, based on the author’s opinion, motivate forgetting on the memories of pain, unpleasant, and disturbing events are unhealthy to one’s body, physically and mentally. What if the capacity of the subconscious has a limit and it cannot continue to repress any more of the memory of negative events, it will causes an unwanted pressure and stress on the individual emotionally and lead to suicide if it reaches the limit. Last but not least, theory of repression, proposed by the psychologist Sigmund Freud.

Freud (1901) stated that the unpleasant memories such as sexual abuse, bullying, torture or any traumatic experience which undergoes the psychological process which automatically and unconsciously prevents emotionally distressing memories from coming into our conscious awareness. In the event or experience in the present such as watching a video, hypnosis or hearing music may triggered the repressed memories back into conscious awareness. However, he stated that, repressed memories cannot deliberately bring back unless it was triggered.

The memory researches pointed out that the retrieval memories come back into awareness through suggestion by the patient’s therapist in fact are false memories. In the nutshell, all the theories above that have discussed which are the encoding failure, decay theory, interference theory, retrieval failure, motivated forgetting and repression. Overview of this research, readers can determine that every theories of forgetting have relation between one another and it is all related to the short-term memory and long-term memory. If the short-term memory does not exist, there is no long-term memory.

In the author’s point of view, some of the theories that have discussed above are too narrow in scope and did not manage to cover all the factors such as emotion of a person that will lead to forgetting. In the author’s opinion, every psychologist that is doing on the same research should investigate and plan the experiments together so that all the psychologists able to brainstorm on their findings and share their thoughts together in order to improve their theories. Besides that, I believe that, all the human being does not want to repress all those negatives events that had ever happened in their lives into their subconscious mind.

This is because after repressing or suppressing those memories into the subconscious mind, it would not provide safety precautions in terms of physically and mentally to everyone. What if one day, one person those who suffer from sexual abuse and torture since childhood and triggered that memory back and do the same thing to others. This will lead to even more people suffers.

Cite this page

Cognition, Memory and Perception. (2018, Oct 09). Retrieved from

Are You on a Short Deadline? Let a Professional Expert Help You
Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7