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On Forgetting

Posted Jun 30 2010 5:00am
Have you ever forgotten something...keys, glasses, phone numbers, names, online passwords? In my household, we are always searching for our car keys. There is often a scramble to find our keys and to remember where we set them down. Inevitably, this happens when we are already running late. It does not help that our cats like to play with keys until they slide underneath a piece of furniture.

Why do we forget?

One of today’s best known memory researchers, Elizabeth Loftus, has identified four major reasons why people forget
1. Retrieval Failure
Have you ever felt like a piece of information has just vanished from memory? Or maybe you know that it’s there, you just can’t seem to find it. One common cause of forgetting is simply an inability to retrieve a memory. One explanation for why
retrieval fails is known as decay theory. According to this theory, a memory trace is created every time a new theory is formed. Decay theory suggests that over time, these memory traces begin to fade and disappear. If information is not retrieved and rehearsed, it will eventually be lost. One problem with this theory, however, is that research has demonstrated that even memories which have not been rehearsed or remembered are remarkably stable in long-term memory.

2. Interference
Another theory known as interference theory suggests that some memories compete and interfere with other memories. When information is very similar to other information that was previously stored in memory, interference is more likely to occur. There are two basic types of interference
* Proactive interference is when an old memory makes it more difficult or impossible to remember a new memory.
* Retroactive interference occurs when new information interferes with your ability to remember previously learned information.

3. Failure to Store
We also forget information because it never actually made it into long-term memory. Encoding failures sometimes prevent information from entering long-term memory. In one well-known experiment, researchers asked participants to identify the correct U.S. penny out of a group of incorrect pennies (Nickerson & Adams). Try doing this experiment yourself by attempting to draw a penny from memory, and then compare your results to an actual penny.

4. Motivated Forgetting
Sometimes, we may actively work to forget memories, especially those of traumatic or disturbing events or experiences. The two basic forms of motivated forgetting are: suppression, a conscious form of forgetting, and repression, an unconscious form of forgetting.

In my own martial arts training, I have experienced retrieval failure, interference and failure to store.

Retrieval Failure: I have stood ready to compete in kata and my mind went completely blank. How does my kata begin? A few weeks ago at a Honbu training session, my instructor announced the bo kata we were going to practice. I must have made an inquisitive face with my eyes raised slightly to the left. My instructor laughed and told me that since I was looking up to the left...that's where my kata was stored. It took a few seconds to remember or retrieve the information.

Interference: We study two very similar bo kata Tokumine Nokun Ichi and Tokumine Nokun Ni. I was learning Tokumini Nokun Ichi and I almost had the pattern. My instructor decided that I should compete with Tokumine Nokun Ni in an upcoming tournament. I quickly learned the second kata and to this day Tokumine Nokun Ni is my favorite bo kata. However, Tokumine Nokun Ichi is hard for me to remember. It was as if the second kata bumped the first one from my brain.

Failure to Store: Have you ever left a class/seminar with information overload?

Any thoughts on forgetting?
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