Explanations of Forgetting

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Describe and evaluate explanations for forgetting There are several explanations as to why we forget particular information in an ‘everyday’ context. This essay will examine the different explanations of forgetting – specifically trace decay, displacement, interference and cue dependent forgetting. Forgetting from short term memory is usually due to lack of availability as STM has limited capacity& duration. Forgetting from long term memory is due to lack of accessibility, the information is still there due to LTM’s unlimited capacity and duration, but at the point of recall it is inaccessible to the person. One explanation of forgetting from short term memory is called trace decay which assumes that memories leave a trace in the brain. Hebb (1949) called this trace an engram, and suggested that an engram occurs when a group of nerve cells (neurons) in the brain excite and stimulate one another. This engram is very delicate and liable to disruption. Thus, a trace refers to the physical representation of information in the brain – it is some form of physical and/or chemical change in the nervous system/brain. Trace decay theory states forgetting occurs as a result of the automatic decay or fading of this memory trace in the brain. The theory is based upon the limited duration of STM and tries to explain why forgetting increases with time – unless the information is passed onto LTM via rehearsal it will decay over a very short period of time (15-30 seconds). Trace decay theory provides a simple explanation of forgetting from STM. It seems plausible to suggest that information may decay from memory as time passes unless it is processed/rehearsed in some way. However, trace decay theory is very difficult to test. For example, there is no obvious way of manipulating the situation to speed up or slow down the rate of decay. There is actually very little

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