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Reminding And Forgetting

Reminding is an aspect of memory that indicates ideas are organized in long-term memory by similarity, whereby when people think of something, they are often reminded of a similar thing. Remindings are usually of information that is similar in content, or of earlier experiences that are similar to the current situation. The most widely accepted explanation of the reminding process is spreading activation which assumes memory is made up of networks of concepts that are connected due to similarity. When a concept from a network of concepts is used, that concept is presumably energized or activated in some way. This activation, if strong enough, spreads along the associative pathways connecting the activated concept to other related concepts and in turn activates the related concepts.

The spreading or activation process is seen as being largely automatic. It can, however, be controlled to a certain extent. In this way we can concentrate on current goals without being constantly distracted by related but largely irrelevant ideas.

Forgetting is the inability to recognize, recall, or reproduce information which was previously known or learned. Different theories within psychology propose various processes for how forgetting occurs. Traditional, associative learning theories believe forgetting is the decay of associative bonds through disuse, or not thinking of something. Associative theories also believe forgetting is caused by interference. Material will be retained to the extent that it was well-learned, unless previously or newly learned information interferes. Interference is the confusion or substitution of one item in memory with another. There are two types of interference: retroactive interference, when old information is harder to remember because new information gets in the way; and proactive interference, when new information is harder to learn because it is similar to old information. Interference theory holds that material is rarely lost or forgotten, it is simply unavailable or inaccessible.

Psychoanalytic theory, as discussed earlier, sees forgetting as the result of repression. Freud felt a good deal of forgetting happens because the forgotten material is associated with unpleasant experiences that produce anxiety which automatically evokes the defense mechanism of repression. Memories then are never truly lost, but are irretrievable due to repression.

The contemporary cognitive approach proposes that each of the three stages of information processing forgets or loses information for different reasons. In both the sensory and short-term memory systems, information is lost through decay of their underlying neural connections. Information is never really forgotten in long-term memory. It is assumed to be there but cannot be accessed due to a failure in retrieval.

It should be noted that there is no way to definitively discover whether information is retained for life or ever truly lost from memory. This is because even if someone cannot recall something that does not mean it is not present in memory. It may instead be inaccessible due to repression, interference, or retrieval failure. Moreover, it is often impossible to assess the accuracy of someone's individual memories as there are no available corroborative witnesses.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mathematics to Methanal trimerMemory - History, Theories Of Basic Memory Processes, Models Of Memory Operation, Three Information Processing Systems - Divisions of long-yerm memory