Nature of Forgetting

It is evident after considering the nature of memory, that, memory specially depends on the process of learning and retention. Forgetting means failure in recalling and retaining of the learnt things. Memory has an important place in the education, but along with it, it is also necessary to study forgetfulness, because forgetting is because of memory. Forgetting makes mind free from the unnecessary and useless things and helps in acquiring new, necessary and worthy things.
The concept of Psychologist Munn—“Forgetting, like memory, is a necessary aspect of learning process, for use must forget incorrect responses while we acquire correct ones.”

So here is the nature of memory, educational vision, principles, causes and prevention will be considered.

Nature of Forgetting

It is necessary to know the causes and nature of forgetting for the process of learning. In order to get success in the learning process, it is necessary to resolve the causes of forgetfulness. Forgetfulness is such a mental process, by which we are unable in bringing learnt things, experience and thought on our conscious level, means retained experiences cannot be recalled. In forgetfulness, past acquired experiences, which are marked as the memory traces on the mental screen, man finds himself unable in recalling or recognizing them. The disappearance and removing of this memory trace is forgetfulness. Psychologists have given following definitions to clear the meaning of forgetting.

  1. Munn—“Forgetting is failing to retain or to be able to recall what has been acquired.
  2. Drever—“Forgetting means failure at any time to recall any experiences. When attempting to do so or to perform an action previously learned.
  3. Freud—“Forgetting is a tendency toward off from memory that which is unpleasant.”
The meaning of forgetting is evident from the above description. Psychologists have done some experiments on forgetting, which throw light on the causes of forgetting. Among them, the name of Ebbinghaus is mentioned. He has called forgetting ‘Passive Mental Process’. Rejecting the opinion of Ebbinghaus, Skaggs, Pilzecker, and Freud have called forgetting ‘Active mental Process’. According to them, we do not forget due to the passage of time, the reason of forgetfulness is that there are other activities and causes, happening between the learning and recall.

Causes of Forgetting 

The causes of forgetfulness can be classified between two classes:
  1. Theoretical
  2. General
(a) The Theoretical Causes of Forgetfulness—The theoretical causes of forgetfulness are following:

  1. Theory of Disuse—The founder of this theory is ‘Sir Ebbinghaus’. According to him–when acquired content is not used for long time or it is not practiced, we began to forget it. It is clear that lapse of time originated of disuse is responsible for the forgetfulness. As soon as the time passes, the quantity of forgetfulness grows.
  2. Repression Theory—Psychologists Freud and his followers delivered this theory. According to him, man has suffering and unloving experiences in his life. He does not want to recall them deliberately. Being repressed, these kind of pathetic experiences are forgotten.
  3. Theory of Interference—Muller, Woodworth and Pilzecker has thrown light on this theory. According to them if any activity is done between learning and recall, it is interfering in the recalling of previous learned material. This process is called “Retrospective Inhibition’ it means backward stoppage. The process that happens between learning and recall is called ‘Introspection Activity’. More the special activity differs from learned activity, higher will be the quantity of forgetfulness.
(b) General Theory of Forgetfulness—General reasons of forgetfulness are following:

  1. Nature of the Learning Material—If the learning and remembering content is more meaningful, interesting and easy; the process of forgetfulness is less. On the contrary, if the content is useless and complicated, forgetfulness is more.
  2. Amount of Learning Material—If any subject is longer, more time and practice is needed for learning it. Due to more practice, it remains learned for many days. On the contrary, small subject is learned soon, there is no need of more practice in it. Consequently these kinds of learned subjects do not leave traces in the memory and we soon forget them. Thus, less long or short subject is also the cause of forgetfulness.
  3. Degree of Learning—If any subject is learnt or practiced for a long time, it is remembered for long time. On the contrary, we soon forget the under learning subject.
  4. Defective Method of Learning—If learning method is defective; we forget the learnt material soon.
  5. Lack of Interest and Attention—In whichever subject, man is not interested, he does not pay attention in it. In spite of learning, he forgets it.
  6. Lapse of Time—Larger the time interval between learning and recalling, more is the process of forgetfulness, as- it has been cleared in the disuse theory.
  7. Age and Intelligence of Learner—The quantity of forgetfulness also depends upon the age and intelligence of learner. The process of forgetfulness will be slow in the adult and sharp intelligence.
  8. Lack of Repetition—When leant material is not repeated for many days, it is also forgotten, because memory traces begin to look dull in lack of repetition.
  9. Emotional Causes—There are often physical and mental changes due to the orientation of emotional causes as fear, anger, anxiety, confusion, etc. In such conditions it is difficult to remember learnt or past experiences. Often students forget a well prepared lesson in fear and confusion in the examination hall.
  10. Desire of Forgetting—When we do not want to learn any things, we often forget. Often man does not want to remember the tragedy that happened in his life, so he forgets it. Thus forgetfulness is inspired by desire. When child learn without desire he forgets it soon.
  11. Doubt—Doubt gives birth to mental weakness. By which there is lack of confidence in a man. Thus he begins to forget necessary things because of doubt in mind.
  12. Brain Injury—If the brain of man is injured, his memory-power is destroyed.
  13. Mental Shock—If any person gets any mental shock due to any cause, his memory power is also affected by it.
  14. Mental Conflict—The problem created by mental conflict is also the cause of forgetfulness.
  15. Use of Intoxicants—The persons who use intoxicant, their memory power is dull. After learning, if any material is not used, content does not remain learnt for more days.
  16. Mental Disease—Mental disease makes memory- power weak. In the above points the causes of forgetfulness are emotional imbalance, feeling complexities, doubt mental conflict, etc. other things come under general memory.

Theory of Forgetting

Some theoretical sides have been given for mentioning the causes of forgetfulness before it. In fact Psychologists have presented the theories of forgetfulness for presenting the extended basis of the causes of forgetfulness. So here is the description of important theories that have been presented.
The theories of forgetfulness are following:

  1. Theory of Trace Decay
  2. Theory of Interference
  3. Theory of Retrieval Failure
  4. Motivational Theory
  5. Theory of Consolidation
1. Theory of Trace Decay—Theory of trace decay depends on general experiences. Often it is seen, that due to period distance, we forget past experiences. Memory traces, in the memory screen get dirty or removed. Hence past experiences, done work and learning are completely or partially forgotten. Two facts are found primarily in this type of forgetting. Time factor and utility factor, if learnt material cannot be recalled in further times, in this type of forgetting time factor is active, means time factor removes the memory traces slowly. Hence from this point of view the process of forgetfulness, due to period distance, happens because of the decay in the memory traces. Forgetfulness is also affected by the utility factor. The things, those are used in the behavior. Due to practice their memory is strong, but the things that are not used in the behavior, due to lack of practice, their memory traces are decayed, and the process of forgetfulness happens. Thorndike has proved by the experiments that the learning which is not used in the practice is forgotten. Thorndike has described this opinion in his learning rules as a theory of disuse. It is called the ‘theory of disuse’ in field of forgetting related to study. From the above causes, in which decay is seen in the memory traces, when we describe forgetfulness, that is the theory of decay. In favor of this theory we can present many examples from the behavior of daily life that can confirm this theory. But this theory does not prove useful on the criterion of psychological study and does not have scientific outlook. This is an old theory. Other theories have been delivered due to the dissatisfaction of this theory.

2. Theory of Interference—Muller, Woodworth and Pilzecker etc psychologists have thrown light on this theory. According to this theory, whatever is learnt, retained and remembered at a time, is badly affected by previous and latter works in the form of interference in the recall. Whatever a man is doing, that is done in the present, whatever he has done in the past, that has gone in the past and the work that has to be done, will be done in the future. There is an effective relationship in the works that are done in the three periods of time. It can be presented in the following picture:
When the learnt work of present time generates interference in the work of past and the work of future generates interference in the work of present, by which there is decay in the recall and retention power, this type of forgetfulness will be called the theory of interference.
It is known by this fact that there are two conditions of interference, first, when the learning process of past time produces interference in the process of present time and second, when process of present time produces interference in the process of future time. In the psychological language, both types of interference are known by the following name:

  1. Pro-active Interference
  2. Retro-active Interference
1. Pro-active Interference—When the factors of forgetting interfere with learning moving forward, that is called Pro-active interference, as it is clear by its name. It is evident from this thought the learning that is being done in the present time is affected by the interference of previously learnt material. The first learning becomes a hindrance in the second learning. For example, a child has to retain and recall the learning material given in the two tables; first he learns the first table and then tries to learn another table. In this process if the learning material of the first table generates interference in the recalling and retaining of the second table, it is proved that, in the forgetting, pro-active interference is activated. This process in the vocabulary of psychologist is called pro-active interference. Often it is seen that proactive interference is important among the most reasons of the forgetfulness of a child. It is appropriate for M.S. Chauhan to give following example in this connection:

“Forgetting, we experience in daily life, is more due to proactive inhibition.’’

2. Retro-active Interference—When the learning process done in the past produces interference or obstacles in recalling and retaining of its previous work, this thought of forgetfulness is called retro-active interference. For example, if a child, after learning first table, tries to learn second table and by the learning of second table, the bad effect of the interference is seen in retaining and recalling of the first table, this process will be called retro-active interference. There is forgetfulness from this type of interference. It is also evident from this factor; interpolated activities are activated between the retaining and recalling of the two learning processes. Consequently forgetting begins to happen. More the similarity between the learning material of past and last, more will be the effect of retro active interference, if there is similarity between the content of both tables, forgetting will be more. There can be more of forgetting due to the excess of interpolated activities, the excess of interpolated learning, excess of time in presenting the interpolated learning and in the period of retaining -rest the excess of activation, because these factors interfere in retaining power and recalling.

We can conclude from the above description that there is pro-active interference in the remembrance of the activation of interpolated activities. In this relation the thoughts of M.S.Chauhan will be appropriate example:

“Interference between the item of the original and interpolated list at the time of the recall is an important variable influencing the amount of retro-active inhibition.”

The theory of interference, in the explanation of forgetfulness, has been considered by many psychologists. Although some psychologists as, Asgood etc, do not agree with this theory, because according to their consideration, the quantity of interference cannot be measured, only it can be observed and felt, yet the extensiveness of the theory of interference is capable in explaining the concept of forgetting, because many experiments have been done in the perspective of this theory in the laboratory and are also being done in the present.

3. Theory of Retrieval Failure—The opinion delivered in this theory is that there is no stable prospect of forgetting, but unstable. After learning some content, during the time of its recall student searches it in his memory treasure. He tries to recall it. After getting success in this effort his memory is activated, but after failing his forgetfulness is activated. Hence the condition of failure in recalling is forgetfulness. Student takes time recalling of memory, puts stress on mind and blows his forehead, all these activities are done for succeeding in the efforts of recalling. We can say that forgetfulness is not losing the memory rather it is failing to bring it on the mental screen. Sometimes it is felt that the content is on the mental screen but it is in some foggy stage, but it does not adopt the nature of retrieval. After doing effort success can be gained in recalling. Sometimes any content can be recalled in a flow without any effort, as that it is put on the tip on the tongue. An unconscious power works in the recalling and retaining in the form of forgetting and memory, which is not known, so the reason of forgetting is unconscious and unknown. Consequently externally the condition of failure in recalling is forgetting, either it is stable or unstable.

4. Motivational Theory—This theory is also called the theory of repression. Freud has mentioned the effect of motivation in the relation of forgetting. This motivation is repression. Repressive activities produce such activities in a person, by which, man is inspired for forgetting the event and any subject. A man is learnt to neglect the especial-memory with it, so with the effort of negligence there is decay in the retention power and there is forgetting after being unable to come over obstacles in recalling. Unconscious mind is activated in it, which is related to the memory of suffering, pain and unsuspicious. Man is filled with the fear of that memory, so memory does not want its recall. The effect of the motivation falls upon the both forgetting and memory.

The absence of motivation is also another cause of forgetting. In the educational situation it is seen that students forget the lesson of last classes and make more efforts in the remembering of the lesson of present class. They get more success in the recalling of the content of present class in comparison of the recalling of the content of the last class. Mr. Zeigarnik did an experiment in this relation, in which he found students are more motivated towards the incomplete work than complete work. “The explanation of recalling incomplete task, their motivation was satisfied and in the case of incomplete tasks, the attraction of those tasks they were unable to finish main.’’

5. Theory of Consolidation—This theory is related for doing interaction, or keeping incomplete in the arrangement of well organized and mutual memory. In such condition we do not get success in recalling. There is the interference of one memory trace by others and the domination of retention on other is the cause of forgetting. As there is a limited period for making cement strong, if it is interacted within this period, it cannot be consolidated. So some time is given for it, similarly there is a retention period for retaining the content, in which memory get strength, in this period the effect of interference by creating efforts of other retention is seen which can not be recalled retention. This is forgetting. This theory of forgetting is considered incomplete and unsatisfied, because it represents the partial form of forgetting.

It can be known by the looking at the above theories that there are many reasons of forgetting. Many theories of forgetting were delivered due to giving importance to different reasons. But in the absence of completeness, incompleteness is seen in each of the theories. We can say in the comparative way that the theory of interference is logical and appropriate, because it has a psychological basis, and experiments are doing in the laboratory on the basis of this theory after explaining the forgetting.

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