Theoretical Perspectives on Remembering and Forgetting Essay

Theoretical Perspectives on Remembering and Forgetting Essay.


     One of the most interesting topics in an introductory course in psychology is the concept of memory; an irresistible topic to view, study and learn due to its relevance and the personal benefits a person can derive immensely in the course of his/her study. People enjoy the sheer feat that those with exceptional abilities exhibit them in various ways.

     It is interesting to note that  in a study on memory, a person like Arturo Toscanini, a world-renowned conductor, was said to have been able to memorize “every note written for every single instrument in some 250 symphonies and all the music and lyrics for more than 100 operas” (Morris & Maisto,1999 in Neisser, 1982).

People like him are examples of those with truly remarkable memories. It is natural for many to be interested in their routines or just what kind of memory they are.

     How important is the understanding of remembering and forgetting? This is best seen in how some people seem “allergic” to the notion of being ascribed as “forgetful” in some areas of his/her life, or the fear of one day discovering that Alzheimer’s disease is looming large in an individual’s immediate future.

People usually make efforts to secure that this part of the brain’s facility is functioning well through personal research on the topic, some forms of mental exercise, and ingesting specific nutritional supplements, among others.

Nevertheless, there are numerous facts and information that the average person must know about this very essential mental operation and the accompanying vast abilities or tasks that every individual brain is capable of. Its exploration for a few is typically out of curiosity; however, many people frequently come across the concepts serendipitously and then discover the enjoyment of learning the material.

     This paper attempts to describe and explain in précis, what memory is, its importance, the difference between short and long-term memory, and the theoretical perspectives that explain and help understand why people remember and forget.


     Just what is meant by memory, and how are the terms short-term memory and long-term memory commonly defined by psychologists? When a person’s memory suffers, what are usually the factors and explanations for such an occasion?

  1. Relevance and Definition of terms

     The study of memory and specifically why people remember and forget any material is relevant especially in the area of learning in particular and in education in general. Moreover, it is a part of this intricate network of learning and much of a person’s adjustment processes, his whole existence, depend largely on it.

  1. Importance of Memory and its study

     Memory is defined primarily as the “ability to retain knowledge: the ability of the mind or of a person or organism to retain learned information and knowledge of past events and experiences and to retrieve that information and knowledge.” It is also “somebody’s stock of retained knowledge and experience,” and the “retained impression of event: the knowledge or impression that somebody retains of a person, event, period, or subject” (Microsoft® Encarta® 2006).

     Short-term Memory has a lot to do with everyday stimuli which a person experiences. This is specifically distinguished as retention of approximately twenty to thirty (20-30) seconds which implies that a limited quantity of data is contained. This type of memory is indispensable in one’s daily processing of experiences (

     Long-term memory is defined as involving the “consolidation and organization of complex knowledge and information for further reference and other cognitive (mental) processing such as the application of learning or information into meaningful experiences”. This is illustrated through the information like a person’s own birthday, his/her father’s name, and the appearance of his/her home(

     In other words, to get an overview of these concepts, both Short-term and long-term memories,  are concerned with how you continually organize data that are stored in your brain. In short, human memory is like a vast and complicated yet organized library, rather than a trash can or disordered store room” (

     In the whole learning process that is part and parcel of being human, it implies a certain degree of remembering and forgetting.

  1. What is remembering?

     Remembering is defined as persistence of learning after practice has ceased. According to Hilgard, it is “to show in present responses some signs of earlier learned responses” (1983). The kinds of remembering are:

  1. Reintegration (the technical term for “reintegrate”); it is to reestablish an earlier experience on the basis of partial cues. For instance, a fragment of a song reestablishes the first dance a girl had with the boy she had a crush on, the place and the time attendant to the event and all the poignant memories associated with it. This may not be detailed or incomplete.
  2. Recall; simple revival of past experience and may involve motor or verbal skills, like recalling the dance steps one learned in his/her physical education class, or in recalling a poem learned in the previous grades.
  3. Recognition; involves recognizing someone or something familiar. An individual may be asked to identify a suspected criminal he saw filching something from the supermarket in the previous days. He/she may pick out the person on the basis on familiarity.
  4. Relearning; involves more rapid learning than before on the basis of some retention from earlier learning. In relearning experiments, when the subject can reproduce a given body of a material according to a standard originally used, it is said that he/she has met a criterion of mastery (Hilgard, 1983).
  5. What is forgetting?

     Forgetting is the loss of the ability to recall, recollect, or reproduce what has been previously learned. There are various theories that presume possible causes of the process. Among these are:  a) Passive decay through disuse

  1. b) Systematic distortion of the memory trace c) Interference effects (retroactive and proactive inhibition), and
  2. d) Motivated forgetting (Atkinson, 2000).
  3. Explaining the Theoretical Perspectives
    1. Passive Decay through disuse

     This theory assumes that forgetting takes place through the passage of time. It assumes that learning leaves a trace in the brain or nervous system – the memory trace which involves some sort of physical change. With time, metabolic processes of the brain cause a fading or decay of the memory traces so that traces of the material once learned gradually disintegrate and eventually disappear (Plotnik, 1996).

  1. Systematic Distortion of memory traces

     This theory also assumes changes in memory traces. The orderly changes in reproducing things from memory (qualitative changes) can be attributed to spontaneous changes in the memory traces. Qualitative changes are revealed in distortions of memory such as those which occur in rumors or in pictorial materials which are transmitted from person to person or are recalled only at intervals by a single person. Details are either omitted or added and sometimes the story or picture is made “better” than the original (Plotnik, 1996).

  1. Interference Effects (Retroactive or proactive inhibition)

     Retroactive inhibition refers to a loss in retention as the result of new learning which acts as back up and inhibits the traces of older learning. Proactive inhibition refers to similar inhibitory effects which occur when the interpolated material is placed ahead of the materials to be learned (Atkinson, 2000).

  1. Motivated Forgetting

     The psychoanalytic school attributes forgetting to motivational factors, including amnesia which is the complete forgetting of one’s personal past and to repression, which is the forgetting of material that is psychologically painful or inconsistent with the individual’s evaluation of the self (Atkinson, 2000)

  1. Other theories – Quantitative decay of retention

     1)Attitudinal and motivational factors – things we desire to remember are more easily remembered; while indifference or lack of interest may make more rapid forgetting (Santrock, 2000).

     2) Nature of materials learned – materials that are meaningful and that lend themselves to good organization are not easily forgotten. It is for this reason teachers or instructors must have a good knowledge of their students’ psychological make-up so that the latter will have better chances of taking in the lessons (Santrock, 2000).

     3) Emotional blocking – (related to motivational forgetting) Many students for instance, state that they have experienced this condition at some points in their academic lives (Santrock, 2000).

     4) Faulty techniques of study. – usually a student or any learner for that matter, naively thinks that what he/she knows as personal study habits are actually sufficient or adequate. Sensitive and concerned teachers (or some parents) eventually are the ones who point these out to students. It is all the more necessary that the earlier diagnosis be in place so that the development of good techniques will be taught and/or enhanced (Santrock, 2000).


     Remembering and forgetting are forms of behavior explained from different standpoints by such theories as passive Decay through Disuse, Systematic Distortion of memory Traces, Interference Effects and Motivated Forgetting. A student who learns that disuse results to decay, will now ensure that he/she put to use and make constant practice his/her regimen. Other reasons or factors are equally important that material are more thoroughly absorbed and assimilated to avoid the pitfalls that pervade a learner in his/her learning process.

     Although such things as “wear and tear” that accompanies ageing are at times uncontrollable factors, and are acceptably the usual alibis of those who forget in their ageing years, some individuals defy this common occurrence. Thus, discounting systemic or organic damage from the environment via accidents and pollution, the scientific evidences still point to the fact that the human brain is a powerful and highly capable organ with more of its areas or “frontiers” to be explored.

     The ramifications of the topic explored are to the incalculable advantages of a person and considered gains in his/her personal understanding and significance of memory.



  1. _____ Dictionary by Microsoft® Encarta® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
  2. Atkinson, R.L., R.C.Atkinson, E.E. Smith, D.J. Bem, and S. Nolen-Hoeksema. 2000. Hilgard’s introduction to psychology. 13th ed. New York:Harcourt College Publishers.
  3. Hilgard, E.R., R.R. Atkinson, and R.C. Atkinson (1979) 1983. Introduction to Psychology. 7th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanich,Inc.
  4. Morris, Charles with Albert Maisto . 1999. Understanding psychology. 4th ed. Prentice Hall Inc. New Jersey. In Neisser, U (1982). Memory observed: Remembering in natural contexts. San Francisco: Freeman.
  5. Plotnik, R. 1996. Introduction to Psychology. 4th ed. Pacific grove, California 93950: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
  6. Santrock, J.W. 2000. Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  7. Internet Source:


Theoretical Perspectives on Remembering and Forgetting Essay

Place this order or similar order and get an amazing discount. USE Discount code “GET20” for 20% discount

Leave a Reply