I often wondered at how the human memory works, there are things and events that we remember vividly and yet there are some of those we forget. I have a problem remembering short conversations. I usually stay at home when I have free time and I get to answer the phone most of the time. Sometimes, the call is not for me, and when the callers leave messages, I forget to relay it to my sister and or parents. The messages are often as simple as “tell John called” or “please have her call me back”, yet I still can’t remember them. Similarly, I used to know by heart my best friend’s home phone number, it was almost automatic for me to dial her number when I am on the phone. But when she moved out of town because of her job, I forgot her number. I realized it when she came back for a visit and she stayed with her parents. I knew she was home and I wanted to invite her to dinner, I was on the phone and I was about to dial when I stopped with my fingers in mid-air because I realized I could not get her number right. I seemed to remember a 2 and a 7 but I could not remember it anymore. It was frustrating and yet it tells me that memory is not infallible; in fact sometimes our memory is often not infallible.
The lessons on the theories of memory taught me that there are two general types of memory, short-term and long-term. Short-term memory refers to the limited amount of information we could store and retrieve wherein decay is very fast. Long-term as the concept suggests described the tons of information that we can store and remember for unlimited amount of time. How do we forget and why is it that we forget? The traditional models of memory suggest that interference causes forgetting (Galotti, 2003). The learning of new information or the presence of the previous information with interfere with the memory and hence cause forgetting. For example, if I receive 5 calls in a day and all of them mentioned something to be relayed to my sister, then the first message interferes with the second message and the third message also interferes with the second message. The trace/decay theory says that information that has not been used for a long time will eventually fade away (Goldstein, 2005). A newer memory model called displacement theory says that short-term memory can only hold 7 chunks of information (Radvansky, 2006), thus if I have to remember 5 messages with 5 words then it would lead to my forgetting of all the other messages. Cue dependent theory says that we forget something because we associated it with a stimulus that served as the cue for the retrieval of that information (Radvansky, 2006), if we don’t have the cue, then we forget the information altogether. The phone number of my best friend was associated with her being physically present in their house, and while she was not there, the association between the cue and the information was lost.
I have found it very useful to take notes, I don’t know but it seems to work for me, when I attend a lecture and I scribble down important information or those that are significant for me personally, I easily remember it rather than just listening to a lecture. On the other hand, when I remember phone number I usually visualize the face of the phone and the numbers and the sequence with which I press the numbers, I remember it better than memorizing it.
Galotti, K. (2003). Cognitive Psychology In and Out of the Laboratory 3rd ed. Pacific
Grove, CA: Brooks Cole.
Goldstein, E. B. (2005). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and
Everyday Experience. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
Radvansky, G. (2006). Human Memory. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.