Reasons for Forgetting
Forgetting can be embarrassing, inconvenient, and unpleasant. The kind of forgetting of greatest concern to psychologists is of items or events that have been stored in long-term memory and that have become difficult to retrieve. Several explanations have been given to describe why this type of retrieval problem occurs.
One possible explanation for being unable to retrieve memories is repression. Repression is unconsciously motivated forgetting; it is an unconscious blocking of things that are frightening and threatening. Traumatic events and anxiety – provoking people and situations can be painful if they are retrieved from long-term memory. Everyone has some form of repression. Any time you refuse to talk or think about an unpleasant happening, you are experiencing a type of repression. According to Freud, it is a way of protecting yourself from remembering things that are distressing.
Have you ever wanted to forget something? Perhaps you did something embarassing or foolish and wanted to suppress the memory. Suppression is a conscious effort to avoid thinking about an event. Since you are aware of the event, suppression is different from repression.
Amnesia is a disorder that displays the most extreme form of repression. It is a loss of memory or a memory gap that includes forgetting personal information that would normally be recalled. Because of the dramatic effect, amnesia patients have been used as the subjects of novels, films, and soap operas. While amnesia victims forget almost all basic information, they do retain basic memories. They remember how to add, subtract, read, write, dress, and cook.
Like repression, amnesia is a limited explanation of why forgetting occurs. It is not nearly as common as the media suggest and can account for only a tiny percentage of forgetting.
Interference is the most popular explanation for why forgetting occurs. You forget because other information interferes with your memory. According to the interference description of forgetting, there are two types of obstructions to remembering: proactive interference and retroactive interference.
Proactive interference: Proactive means “acting forward.” Proactive interference refers to instances when previouss memories block the recall of more recent learning. Suppose you meet a new psychology instructor named Professor Kassel, who reminds you of your old girlfriend, Flora Belle, you may have diffuculty remembering the professor’s correct name and want to call her Flora Belle. In proactive interference, earlier learning interferes with new learning.
Retroactive interference: Retroactive means “acting backward.” Retroactive interference refers to instances where recent learning blocks the recall of previous memories. If the next time you meet your old girlfriend, Flora Belle, you have difficulty remembering her name and have an urge to call her “professor,” retroactive inhibition will be contributing to your forgetting.
( Langan, John. Reading and Study Skills. New York : McGraw Hill, 2007)
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