Study reveals clues to how we forget over short-term

Dec 12, 2008

Even though forgetting is such a common occurrence, scientists have not reached a consensus as to how it happens. One theory is that information simply decays from our memory—we forget things because too much time has passed. Another idea states is that forgetfulness occurs when we confuse an item with other items that we have previously encountered (also known as temporal confusability).

Psychologists Nash Unsworth from the University of Georgia, Richard P. Heitz from Vanderbilt University and Nathan A. Parks from the Georgia Institute of Technology investigated the two theories to pinpoint the main cause of forgetfulness over the short term. In their study, the participants were presented with a "Ready" screen (on a computer) for either 1.5 seconds or 60 seconds.

Following this, they were presented with a string of three letters and were instructed to remember them for a later test. But, before they were asked to recall the three letters, the volunteers were told to count backwards for various amounts of time (4, 8, 12 or 16 seconds).

The results, reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveal that temporal confusability, and not decay, is important for forgetting over the short term. The volunteers who had to count backwards for the longest amount of time were better able to recall the letters than volunteers who were asked to count backwards for a shorter time period. If decay was the culprit behind forgetting, the group that was asked to count backwards for a longer amount of time would have performed the worst during recall.

The authors conclude that "it is possible to alleviate and even reverse the classic pattern of forgetting by making information distinct, so that it stands out relative to its background". These findings have very important implications not just for everyday memory use, but also for educational practices and for populations with memory problems, such as the elderly.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Explore further: Suicide rates rising for older US adults

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Got Battery? Lots of low battery hacks but no quick fix

Jan 22, 2015

At a cozy watering hole in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, bartender Kathy Conway counted four different phone chargers behind the bar. Call it the scourge of the red zone, call it battery anxiety. ...

How the bicycle got its spokes

Oct 13, 2014

The humble two-wheeler is a miracle of engineering. But just how did we get from the Penny Farthing to Kevlar tyres?

Recommended for you

Suicide rates rising for older US adults

48 minutes ago

Suicide rates for adults between 40 and 64 years of age in the U.S. have risen about 40% since 1999, with a sharp rise since 2007. One possible explanation could be the detrimental effects of the economic downturn of 2007-2009, ...

Thinking of God makes people bigger risk-takers

16 hours ago

Reminders of God can make people more likely to seek out and take risks, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The findings sugges ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.