Forgetting Explanation: Retrieval Failure (Absence of Context and Cues).
According to the theory of
retrieval failure, we forget
because we cannot retrieve
information from long-term
memory without the
appropriate retrieval cues.
In this case, the information is
available, because it is still
stored in memory, but not
accessible, because we
cannot recall it when needed.
You only have to think about what happens
in exams, when you cannot recall information
in the exam hall, but remember it easily when
someone cues you by saying something
about it outside the examination hall.
Brown and McNeill (1966) referred
to this type of experience as a
tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon (TOT).
One especially useful cue to recall is
context. Investigators who study
eyewitness testimony are aware that
it is possible to aid recall in a witness
by reinstating the context, helping the
witness to re-experience the event by
imagining where the event took place
and all that was going on at the time.
The effect of context on recall was
demonstrated experimentally by
Godden and Baddeley (1975). They
suggested that memory was
context-dependent, meaning that
recall is dependent on whether the
context in which we learn is the same
as the context in which we recall.
Godden and Baddeley
Tulving and Thompson (1973)
explained this effect in terms of
principle, meaning that recall is
better if the retrieval context is
similar to the encoding context.
However, the context
need not always be
our own internal context,
such as our mood state,
can act as cue to retrieval.
E.g. If a person is
depressed when they
learn something, they
are more likely to recall
the information when
they are depressed than
why they are happy.
Eysenck and Keane (2000)
suggest that this effect is
most noticeable when the
moods are a consequence
of personal events rather
than induced by lists of
positive or negative words.
A fairly common way of
investigating the effects
of cues on retrieval
failure is to use category
headings as cues.
Tulving and Pearlstone
Bower et al. (1969)
carried out a study which
showed how organisation
can act as a cue to recall.
Bower et al. (1969).
According to Baddeley
(1997), there is no doubt
about the importance of cues
in the retrieval process.
Godden and Baddeley's (1975)
findings in the underwater study
occur only when participants are
asked to perform free recall, and
not when the test involves
recognition, so retrieval failure may
not explain instances of forgetting
that occur with other forms of recall.
The context-dependent nature of memory
has been demonstrated many times and it
is not even necessary to be in the same
environment. Smith (1979) found that just
imagining the room where learning took
place was as effective for participants as
recalling in the same room as learning.
Some studies involve artificial stimuli
and so lack ecological validity. E.g. In
the Tulving and Pearlstone study
(1966) participants were asked to recall
a list of 48 words in 12 categories.
The retrieval failure explanation is
consistent with the levels of processing
theory of memory. Deep processing
involves making links and associations
with what we already know. This
increases the chance that one or more
of these associations will match with a
retrieval cue (Groome 1999).