On Forgetting

1 Mar

I’ve been recently studying the idea of memory. Ironically, my brain was so off yesterday that I couldn’t remember anything, it seemed. It started when my laptop plug decided to spark up and die. I was angry for about five minutes and then I remembered I had a spare laptop. I dig through my closet and finally spot it. Upon booting up, I stare at a log-in screen. I cannot remember the password to save my life. I try every combination known to man when finally a password hint pops up. The hint is “Yahoo!” What a relief, I thought. The password is clearly the same as my Yahoo! account. I place my hands on the keyboard and realize I have forgotten my Yahoo! password. After about 10 minutes of continuous cursing, I suddenly remember I can just use my tablet. I whip it out and go to power it on, but it’s dead — and of course, I can’t remember where the charger is. Ok. What the heck is going on?

This annoying experience had me thinking: why is memory so spotty sometimes? Furthermore, what kind of cues would have helped me to remember things like my old password or where I last put my charger? After doing some brief research, I came across the term “cue-dependent forgetting” also known as “retrieval failure.”

The idea behind cue-dependent forgetting is that we fail to recall because of missing stimuli. The information still exists, but without these cues, retrieval is not likely. When I purchased that spare laptop, I was a total weirdo in high school. Of course, five years later, I am a completely different person (hopefully less weird). Perhaps in high school, I chose to make my password something that generally made sense to me then. Because I no longer have those cues that were present at the time I encoded that memory, it makes sense that it would be difficult to decode it now.  Moreover, “state-dependent cues” relate to our state of mind and being at the time of encoding which can certainly be completely different years later when you are trying to perform retrieval.

I may have learned some new ideas behind memory, but perhaps the biggest lesson I learned is to write things down and keep important information in a safe (and memorable) place.

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