Many people think that the human mind is too complex to explain, and memory
is no exception. Even though vast amounts of research have been carried out
into how we remember (and forget!) things, nobody knows for sure the model on
which human memory is based.
There are, nonetheless, two main reasons for which psychologists think we 'forget'
You store information in your memory but are unable to remember it when
you need to, but perhaps can at a later date. In this case, information is
The human memory simply forgets information, permenantly, and the physical
traces of the memory disappear. In which case, information is unavailable
How we forget
It's though that how we forget differs depending on whether a memory is stored
in our long term or short term memory (see multi-store
In Short-term memory:
There are three ways in which you can forget information in the STM:
This occurs when you do not 'rehearse' information, ie you don't contemplate
it. The physical trace of such memory is thought to fade over time.
Displacement is quite literally a form of forgetting when new memories replace
old ones. Everyone knows the potentially vast capacity of memory, particularly
long-term memory, but research by Norman has shown that numbers can replace
old ones being memorised (using the serial probe technique).
It's sometimes difficult to remember information if you've been trying to
memorise stuff that's similar, eg words which sound similar (in 1966, psychologist
Baddeley found that participants of his study found it easier to remember
words which were more distinguished). Interference can either be proactive
(this is when old memories interfere with new ones) or retroactive, when new
information distorts old memories.
In Long-term memory:
Long term is supposed to be limitless in its capacity and length in terms of
time. Still though, we can forget information through decay (as in short-term
forgetting) and interference from other memories.
Although we evidently can 'forget' information, it's unknown whether information
does actually disappear from memory. In hypnosis, memories which we never knew
still existed can be recalled from early childhood using regression, calling
into question - can we really forget?
Sign Up for Full Access
Access hundreds of theories, approaches, study and experiment overviews, plus a range of psychology guides including Body Language Reading and How to Interpret Your Dreams.