Forgetting in Short-term Memory Essay

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Forgetting in Short-term Memory

Forgetting can be a useful way in clearing out the un-wanted clutter from our memories. We do not need to remember things like what we wore last Thursday.


We must remember that according to Miller, the capacity of S.T.M is limited to about seven items (+ or - two.) Material that is circulating in our S.T.M that has not been sufficiently processed by our L.T.M. can be pushed out or displaced by new incoming information.

Waugh and Norman (1965) used a technique known as the serial probe technique to investigate this idea. This involved presenting individuals with a series of digits followed by the repetition of one of these digits known as
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At this stage, which corresponds with S.T.M, this trace is fragile and likely to be disrupted. If it is not strengthened through with repeat neural activity e.g. rehearsal (usually verbal) the trace can fade away over time. However if rehearsed a permanent structural change can take place and the trace is no longer susceptible to decay. This means that according to Hebb trace decay can only account for forgetting in S.T.M.

It is difficult to test decay theory without introducing confounding factors but a researcher known as Reitman (1974) devised one she thought would be as pure a measure as possible. She decided that participants should be given a task between learning and recall, which prevented rehearsal but did not allow for further learning. She showed participants lists of five words for 2 seconds and then for a further 15 seconds asked them to listen out for a faint tone over earphones. She thought that this would require effort and attention but not allow for the chance of any new learning. Under these conditions recall of the five words declined by about 24% over the 15 second period which led her to conclude that the decline in performance was due to decay however it is impossible to say whether or not any new information was learned by the individuals.

It is clear that S.T.M is a fragile store from which information can be quickly or easily
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