Forgetting and Hope
Forgetting, as defined by the Webster dictionary, means to be unable or fail to remember. There are many theories as to why people forget. Some of which include encoding failure, decay theory, interference, consolidation failure, motivated forgetting, and prospective forgetting.
Encoding failure happens when the information was not stored in long-term memory in the first place. If information did not transfer from short-term memory to long-term memory, most likely the information will not be retained.
Probably the oldest theory of forgetting, decay theory, assumes that memories, if not used, fade with time and ultimately disappears entirely. The “neural trace” or physiological record of an experience may decay within a very short period or over a much longer period. (Boyd, D., Wood, Ellen Green, & Wood, Samuel E. (2004). Mastering the World of Psychology, Pearson Education, Inc.)
Another cause of forgetting is interference. There are two types of interference forgetting. The first, proactive interference happens when information already stored in long-term memory makes the tasks of remembering newer information difficult. For example, you may already know a particular version of software and an upgraded version may not have the some “short cut” keys that have been stored in long-term memory. The second type of interference forgetting is retroactive interference. Retroactive interference occurs when new learning interferes with the ability to retain previously learned information. The more similarities there are to the new learning’s, the more interference there may be
When memories are being encoded into stores memory, a process called consolidation is occurring. If a tragic incident, such as a car accident leading to the loss of consciousness during the time of the consolidation process happens, the memory may not make it to long-term memory. Therefore, there many be loss of memory or events taking place before the accident, referred to as consolidation failure.
Occasionally events happen in our life that we may choose to forget because the even was painful or unpleasant. Forgetting that these events took place is called motivated forgetting. There are two types of motivated forgetting. Sometimes a person is still aware that an event happened even after making an effort to put it out of their mind, referred to as suppression. Other times, during repression, a person is able to remove the memory from consciousness and are not longer aware the event occurred.
Lastly, prospective forgetting happens when people forget to so something that may seem unpleasant, like going to the dentist.
In my personal life I can relate to many of these theories of forgetting.
Several times in class I find myself not encoding the information. I sometimes shift my focus to something going on at work while listening to the lecture. I am hearing the information, but not really relating it to anything or repeating the information to myself. Therefore, it is very similar to the “in one ear and out the other” saying. The information never transfers from my short-term memory to my long-term memory.
Recently, we purchased a new mapping program at work. We were already using a mapping program that has similar capabilities, but the functionality is notably different. Occasionally, I have a need to go back and use the old mapping program to make changes to an existing map. Interference is occurring due to the fact I am having trouble going back and using the old mapping program because I am trying to apply the functionality of the new software.
My mother and father were divorced when I was eleven years old. Needless to say, it was a very unpleasant experience in my life. I remember fragments of the day my father told my mother he wanted a divorce, however I have attempted to remove the day from my mind, or have suppressed the memory.
Considering the decay theory makes me sad. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease approximately eight years ago and resides in a nursing home. Even though her condition is progressive, I have to wonder if part of her forgetting is due to decay theory. Obviously the staff at the nursing home does not know the fine details of my mothers life, and therefore do not speak to those events. The memories are my mother’s life is not being stimulated and slowly fading away.
In conclusion, although there probably is not any hope for my mother, there may be hope for the baby boomer generation thanks to a marine snail called Aplysia Caifornicus. Aplysia is a homely looking creature to most, but to scientists hoping to develop memory-enhancing medication, it is a thing of beauty. (Carmichael, M. (2004, December). Medicine’s Next Level. Newsweek, 45-46, 49-50.)
As it turns out, the molecules of memory in sea slugs are not that different from some of those in humans. They are now being considered for drugs that may some day ward off the forgetfulness that so many people suffer from.
I do not know if I have Alzheimer’s in my genes, but it sounds as if there may be hope if I do.
Boyd, D., Wood, Ellen Green, ; Wood, Samuel E. (2004). Mastering the World of Psychology, Pearson Education, Inc.
Carmichael, M. (2004, December). Medicine’s Next Level. Newsweek, 45-46, 49-50.