Explanations for Forgetting: Proactive and Retroactive Interference and Retrieval Failure due to Absence of Cues

Definition of Forgetting:

The failure to retrieve memories (retrieval failure), with explanations focusing on the idea that we may not be able to remember a memory because;Memory Clip Art

a) it is no longer available in the memory store,

b) there is an issue retrieving the memory.

The Multi-Store model of memory states that LTM has an unlimited capacity, and memories have a duration of potentially a lifetime. However, we know by experience that we forget information stored in the LTM. But does that mean the memories are gone (availability), or we just can’t reach them (accessibility)?

Forgetting – Interference:

Definition of Interference:  one memory disturbs the ability to recall another. This might result in forgetting or distorting one or the other or both. This is more likely to happen if the memories are similar. There are two types of interference:

(1) Proactive Interference:

This occurs when information stored previously interferes with an attempt to recall something new (old prevents new). For example: a memory of your old mobile number disrupts attempts to recall your new mobile number. An easy way to remember this is to think pro=forwards (i.e. a previous memory affecting the storage of a new memory).

(2) Retroactive Interference:

This occurs when coding new information disrupts information stored previously (new prevents old). For example: the memory of your new car registration number prevents recall of your previous car registration number. An easy way to remember this is to think retro=backwards (i.e. a new memory distorting the storage of an old memory).

Some Examples of Proactive and Retroactive Forgetting – give the following a go (answers at the bottom of this webpage):

(a) You call your new girlfriend/boyfriend your old girlfriend/boyfriend’s name?

(b) A teacher has an inability to remember the names of the students that he used to teach last because he has remembered a new class of names?

(c) Your new mobile number preventing you from being able to remember your old mobile number?

(d) An inability to remember your old postcode because you have remembered the one belonging to your new house?

(e) Remembering items on a shopping list from last week but not being able to remember the items on a shopping list for this week?

AO1: A Research Study to Support Retroactive Interference: Schmidt et al (2000)

Aim: To assess the influence of retroactive interference upon the memory of street names learned during childhood

Procedure: 700 names were randomly selected from a database of 1700 former students at a Deutsch elementary school. Participants were sent a questionnaire to complete. 211 participants responded, ranging in age from11 to 79 years old. As part of the questionnaire, participants were given a map of the Molenberg neighbourhood (where they had gone to school) with all 48 street names replaced with numbers. Participants were asked to remember as many of the street names as possible. ) Other personal details collected included; how many times they had moved house, where they had lived and for how long, how often they had visited Molenberg. The amount of retroactive interference experienced was assessed by the number of times the individual had moved to another neighbourhood or city (thus learning new sets of street names).

Findings: There was a positive association between the number of times participants had moved house outside the Molenberg neighbourhood and the number of street names they had forgotten.

Conclusions: The findings suggested that learning new patterns of street names when moving house makes remembering old patterns of street names harder to do. Retroactive interference does seem able to explain forgetting in some real-life situations.

AO3: Previous Research to Support Retroactive Interference:

Researchers: Postman and Underwood (1960)

Aim: A research study to investigate if new learning interferes with previous learning.

Procedure: Participants were divided into two groups. Group A were asked to learn a list of word pairs i.e. cat-tree, they were then asked to learn a second list of word pairs where the second paired word was different i.e. cat – glass. Group B were asked to learn the first list of word pairs only. Both groups were asked to recall the first list of word pairs.

Findings: Group B recall of the first list was more accurate than the recall of group A.

Conclusion: This suggests that learning items in the second list interfered with participants’ ability to recall the list.  This is an example of retroactive interference.

AO3: Evaluation of Research Investigating Retroactive Interference:

Strength, the second piece of research described above can be used to support the idea of Retroactive Intereference:

(1) Point: Support for the interference theory comes from Underwood and Postman’s research illustrating that new learning can interfere with previous learning. Evidence/Example: Participants were divided into two groups. Group A were asked to learn a list of word pairs i.e. cat-tree, they were then asked to learn a second list of word pairs where the second paired word was different i.e. cat – glass. Group B were asked to learn the first list of word pairs only. Both groups were asked to recall the first list of word pairs. Underwood and Postman found that Group B recall of the first list was more accurate than the recall of group A. Elaboration: This is a strength because the research suggests that learning items in the second list interfered with participants’ ability to recall the list and therefore supports the existence of retroactive interference.

Weaknesses:

(1) Point: However, a weakness of the interference theory is that it is most commonly tested using laboratory experiments. Evidence/Example: For example, participants are often to complete artificial tasks such s learning a list of words which lacks mundane realism and can result in participants displaying artificial behaviours. Elaboration: This is a weakness because it means that any results from the lab experiments cannot be generalised to real-life forgetting which weakens those experiments as support of interference theory.

(2) Point: Support for the interference theory comes from Baddeley and Hitch who compared interference to trace decay as an explanation for forgetting in a real-life, non-artificial study. Evidence/Example: For example, Baddeley and Hitch asked rugby players to recall the names of teams recently played. For various reasons including injuries and suspensions most players they interviewed had missed some games, so for one player the last game might have been last week, while for another it was two months ago. Baddeley and Hitch found that recall for the last game was equally good whether that game was played some time ago or last week. This shows that incorrect recall was not due to decay (the passage of time) but was related to the number of intervening games. Elaboration: This is a strength because of demonstrates that forgetting is more likely to be due to information in the LTM becoming confused, supporting the interference theory.

Cue Dependent Forgetting:

Definition of Cue Dependent Forgetting: This theory explains forgetting in the LTM as a retrieval failure: the information is stored in the LTM but cannot be accessed. Forgetting according to this theory is due to lack of cues. Two types of cues:
(1) Cues which are linked meaningfully to the information to be remembered.
(2) Cues which are not linked meaningfully to the information to be remembered.

This theory proposes that when we learn the information we also encode the context (external cues) in which we learn the information and the mental state we are in (internal cues). These can act as cues to recall.

Context-Dependent Forgetting: 

Definition of Context Dependent Forgetting: Context-dependent forgetting can occur when the environment during recall is different from the environment you were in when you were learning.

AO1: Research to Illustrate Context Dependent Forgetting:

Aim: Godden and Baddeley (1975) investigated the effect of environment on recall.
This study took place in Scotland.

Procedure: 18 divers from a diving club were asked to learn lists of 36 unrelated words of two or three syllables 4 conditions :
(1) Learn on beach recall on beach
(2) Learn on beach recall under water
(3) Learn under water recall on beach
(4) Learn under water recall under water

Findings:

Godden and Baddeley Context Dependent Forgetting Results

Conclusion: the results show that the context acted as a cue to recall as the participants recalled more words when they learnt and recalled the words in the same environment than when they learnt and recalled the words in different environments.

AO3: Evaluation of  Context Dependent Forgetting:

Strengths:

(1) Point: Previous research from Abernathy (1940) supports the influence of contextual cues in remembering. Example/Evidence: Abernathy (1940) found that students performed better in tests if the tests took place in the same room as the learning of the material had taken place, and were administered by the same instructor who had taught the information. Elaboration: This is a strength because it highlights that the presence of contextual cues can aid our memory and help us to remember information. on the contrary to this, the absence of contextual cues can cause us to forget information/find it difficult to retrieve stored information.

(2) Point: Baddeley and  Godden’s research can be praised for having a high degree of control over variables. Example/Evidence: For example, the IV (environment in which the words were learned and recalled) was fully controlled by the experimenters), such a high degree of control was also exercised over potential EVs also. Elaboration: This is a strength because it means that the study holds high internal validity and that a cause and effect relationship can be established between the IV (the situation in which the words were learned/recalled) and the DV (the memory recall performance).

Weakness:

(1) Point: Baddeley and Godden’s research can be criticised for being an artificial task. Example/Evidence: For example, although the divers were familiar with being under the water (due to their diving careers). Being asked to remember and then recall a random list of words is not a typical everyday task. Elaboration: This is a weakness because if the task is not reflective of a real life activity, the results can be criticised for lacking validity and not being fully representative of typical human behaviour.

State Dependent Forgetting

Definition of State Dependent Forgetting:                                                                                   State-dependent forgetting occurs when your mood or physiological state during recall is different from the mood you were in when you were learning.

AO1: Research to Illustrate State Dependent Forgetting:

Aim: Goodwin et al. (1969) conducted research to investigate State Dependent Forgetting.

Procedure: Forty-eight male medical students participated on day 1 in a training session and on day 2 in a testing. They were randomly assigned to four groups.
Group1: (SS) was sober on both days.
Group 2: (AA) was intoxicated both days.
Group 3: (AS) was intoxicated on day 1 and sober on day 2.
Group 4: (SA) was sober on day 1 and intoxicated on day 2.
The intoxicated groups had 111 mg/100 ml alcohol in their blood .They all showed signs of intoxication. The Participants had to perform 4 tests:  an avoidance task, a verbal rote-learning task, a word-association test, and a picture recognition task.

Results: More errors were made on day 2 in the AS and SA condition than in the AA or SS conditions, however this was not the case for the picture recognition test. The SS participants performed best in all tasks.

Conclusion: The results support the state-dependent memory theory as the performance was best in the participants who were sober or intoxicated on both days.

AO3: Evaluation of Research into State Dependent Forgetting:

Strengths: 

(1) Point: There is further support for the influence of state-dependent cues. Evidence/Example: Overton (1964) experimented on two groups of rats, one group was given a mild barbiturate the other group did not get the drug. They were then placed in a simple maze and taught to escape an electrical shock. When the group with the drug were placed back in the maze without the drug they could not remember how to escape the shock but if they were given the drug again they could recall how to escape the shocks. Elaboration:This is a strength because the research highlights the important of an individual being in ‘the same state’ when recalling their memory. A different internal state can often impair memory making recall more difficult.

(2) Point: The research was conducted in a highly controlled setting giving researchers control over the IV and potential EVs. Evidence/Example: Goodwin was able to control which participants were intoxicated, not intoxicated and which participants were to recall intoxicated/not intoxicated. In addition, the researchers were able to control any other EVs that could affect memory performance/forgetting (e.g. age, distractions etc…). Elaboration: This is a strength because it means that the study has high internal validity and that a cause and effect relationship can be established between internal state and memory recall.

Weaknesses:

(1) Point: The research can be criticised has having low ecological validity. Evidence/Example: For example, being asked to complete mundane memory tasks are not something that people typically complete during their everyday life. Elaboration: This is a weakness because, if the research task is not reflective of real life, the results can be argued not reflect typical everyday behaviour meaning that the research tells us very little about the human memory and forgetting.

(2) Point: The study can be criticised as having demand characteristics. Evidence/Example: For example, participants knew that they were taking part in a study (not hard to guess that remembering and recalling a list is linked to memory research). As a result, participants might have changed their behaviour in order to please the researcher/give the experimenter the results that they desire. Elaboration: This is a weakness because it might compromise the internal validity of the study making it difficult to establish a cause and effective relationship.

 

Answers to types of forgetting activity:

(a) Proactive                                                                                                                                             (b) Retroactive                                                                                                                                         (c) Retroactive                                                                                                                                          (d) Retroactive                                                                                                                                         (e) Proactive

 

 

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