Revision notes for Psychology AS Unit 2 – Essay plan – Explanations for forgetting

It is always useful to make essay plans for the 10 marker exam questions so that way you have broken down the question into AO1 points and AO2 points and you can answer all parts of the question. I created an essay plan for this exam question:

Describe and evaluate 2 likely explanations for forgetting



Interference – theory of forgetting in both STM and LTM. Memory traces disrupted by other new info

PROACTIVE – what we already know interferes with what she is trying to learn that is new

RETROACTIVE – what she is learning now (Spanish) is interfering with earlier learning (Italian)

Case study – Keppel and Underwood 1962 – to investigate effects of proactive interference on recall from memory. Participants given series of trials where they had to learn  trigrams. Then count back for either 3/9/18 seconds. They then tested the recall of the trigrams. 1st trial – 100% performance even though they had different interval times. This was because there is no preceding item to interfere. 2nd & 3rd trial – performance fell as intervals increased because the earlier learning of trigrams interferes with latter learning (proactive).

Retrieval failure – theory of forgetting in LTM due to lack of accessibility. Memory can exist but not achieved because retrieval cues are inadequate

Tulving (19740 – used cue-dependent forgetting to explain that if same cues not present at time of recall as they are during time of original learning, recall will be poor

2 types: context dependent forgetting (relevant environmental variables that were present during learning aren’t present during recall; variables are external cues) and state dependent forgetting (occurs in absence of relevant physio/psychological variables that were present during learning; variables act as internal cues)

Case study – Godden and Baddeley to see if cues from the environment affected recall. Deep sea divers learned words either on land or underwater. Recall was tested in same or different context. Those who learned and recalled in different contexts – more than 30% deficit compared to those who learned and recalled in same context.


Keppel and Underwood study has low ecological validity as the situation wouldn’t arise in real life

Strengths of interference theory – better theory than decay, recent research on real-life events has provided support for theory, proactive and retroactive are reliable effects

Limitations of interference theory – tells little about cognitive process involved in forgetting, most of the research carried out in lab experiment so low ecological validity

Strength of retrieval failure – lots of empirical evidence to support theory, can explain findings that can’t be explained by trace decay theory.

Limitation of retrieval failure – studies carried out under extreme conditions don’t reflect everyday conditions – lack ecological validity.

*always remember to include a conclusion to all your essays even if it is just a summarising sentence or else you will not be awarded full marks because no matter how well-written your essay is, you need a conclusion*


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