Why do we forget: Even if we study?

I pondered what to write my blog about, as I have always been fascinated about Psychology, even as a little girl.  Now what caught my eye was the section on Psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus, who was one of the first to study forgetting and wanted to determine how are memory is and the relation to forgetting what we try to learn.  Good question right?

I have often wondered why I study so hard at times and seem to really know the material, especially if it is of a subject or topic I really like or am interested in knowing more about, but then somehow either forget key facts or maybe even a huge chunk of the material I thought I had down pat; everything is blank and I am unable to recall the material I tried to learn.  What was the reason? Is there something that contributed to it that helped me forget more easily?

The article, “Forgetting”, in Very Well, speaks of Ebbinghaus and his published findings in “Memory:  A Contribution to Experimental Psychology” in 1885.  His results were documented and was deemed the “Ebbinghaus forgetting curve”.  As he learned from testing his self for the experiment that “information is often lost very quickly after learned”.


Cues can help you recall things from memory.  A good example, my Art History professor told us on taking notes in class to retain memory, was to do a quick and simple sketch of an art work, with lil key notes on important facets of it.  It will job your memory, or a key word.  Being able to recall things from a vast of newly learned materials can be difficult, and definitely can be forgotten quickly.

The article continues to mention on reasons on why we forget.  Distractions, something that has definitely impeded my retaining material from time-to-time.  Another thing it mentioned that correlates with Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve, is “The Interference Theory of Forgetting”  It lists an example if you were asked what you ate for dinner last Tuesday, but you might not recall or have difficulty, but would probably more easily remember if it were more immediate, like the next morning.  As more time elapses, it is harder to recall from memory.  Similar things to remember are what it means by the “Interference Theory”.  Unique things are more likely to be remembered even with a lapse of time.

It is difficult to know what exactly creates the cause between memory and forgetting; it could be a multitude of reasons from interference, to new information, to time delays, so knowing what the main contributing factors are would not be easy to test or determine.

Definitely, as Ebbinghaus briefly indicated from his own tests, that when learning new material, or studying and then going to sleep, there was no drop in forgetting, as shown in the “Studying before Sleep” article, by Dr. Russ Dewey, 2007.  I would definitely have to agree with this, even if Ebbinghaus “reject some of his own data”.  By studying and then directly going to sleep, unless you suffer from insomnia, anxiety or other factors, you have no other interference with your memory.  You are asleep.  It is able to be restored right after the learning took place.


I personally have tried many ways, gaps before going to sleep, time in between, repetitive, but what seems to enable me to retain more and fully, is studying and then immediately going to sleep.  I never really looked at the other things that contributed to the “Why” we forget part before, but definitely delays and lapses of time in between learning and other interference or distractions cause forgetting and/or inability to recall or store the material or retain it properly.

With that being said, I know what I will be doing before the next quiz, going straight to bed after I study! 🙂


Works Cited:

https://www.verywell.com/lesson-six-human-memory-2795294, “Forgetting”, 2016, About, Inc.

http://www.psywww.com/intropsych/ch06_memory/studying_before_sleep.html, Studying Before Sleep, 2007, Dr. Russ Dewey,


5 thoughts on “Why do we forget: Even if we study?

  1. Felicia Maria Tavarez Puntiel

    This article makes me think of old age. What will happen to my memory when I get older? Have you thought about your memory once you hit 70 years of age or older? I have. It made me think about dementia a symptom caused by diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson, Vascular disease, pick’s disease, AIDS and other impairments which slow the intellectual functions of the mind.
    I worry a lot, since I tend to have a daily to do list and, I usually forget what I am supposed to do after I get home from work. I usually think of many things I need to do once am home, then I get home and forget all about them. Am I the only one that forgets things after a few hours has passed by? I also tend to forget things I study unless they are really of my interest, which end up affecting my grade. Do you worry that something so simple as remember chores once home from work will affect your memory at a later age? I do.

    Sources Cited:
    Why do we Forget Things as we Mature? Retrieved October 09, 2016, from http://www.disabled-world.com/artman/publish/memory_loss.shtml

  2. jks5571

    I definitely struggle with retaining information as well. And in reading your blog post I did some research on my own, only to find out that the best technique for memorizing information is not a new concept. In fa ct, I am mostly sure that every teacher and professor that has ever brought up study habits has relayed the same information. Kevin Wong explains it perfectly in his article, “Timing and frequency of review/study is more important than total time studied.After enough repetitions, the forgetting curve becomes almost flat, and the new information starts shifting into long term memory. Conversely, if you haven’t done any previous review and spend long hours “cramming” right before a test, the study session is long and painful (you’ve forgotten almost everything by now and you’re re-learning the majority of the information instead of simply reviewing it). The recently crammed information will soon be forgotten once again.”
    Basically, until we can download knowledge, good old fashioned notes and time are the best, tried and true habits.
    In addition, having just completed the midterm myself. I will say, using the week to slowly go over the exam review and not rush through it made a world of a difference. Even though I did not go through the actual writing process, I was amazed at how some information seemed brand new, even though I certainly read it. And in the last few weeks, how frustrating 😛 Best of luck to you!

    Sources Cited
    Wong, K. (n.d.). Princeton Tutoring Blog. Retrieved October 09, 2016, from http://www.princetontutoring.com/blog/2011/04/how-to-improve-your-long-term-memory/

  3. Noriko Onodera Tauer

    Another aspect of memory is recall. It may not necessarily be the case that you “forgot” the information as it was that you simply were unable to recall it at the time that you wanted to (like during a test).

    English is not my first language, Japanese is. When I was studying English, I also studied a little bit about studying English – or to say it more clearly, I studied a little bit about second language acquisition. That was where I first heard about something called the affective filter. Judy Willis M.D., M.Ed. wrote a very short paper discussing the effects of the affective filter on second language acquisition titled “BRAIN Research Compatible Memory Strategies.” In her paper she talks briefly about how during times of stress the amygdala can become activated and effectively clamp down on the flow of information, impeding access to information even if it hasn’t actually been forgotten. I have experienced this process first hand when trying to use English phrases or expression in stressful situations. I have also experienced the neutralization of this process when trying to use English phrases ore expressions after consuming alcohol – the lower my stress level, the better my English.

    Works cited
    Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed., BRAIN Research Compatible Memory Strategies

  4. ams7704

    I completely understand how you feel! Remembering anything, for me, is very difficult. However, I can recall everything my husband does that drives me nuts! I never really put the reasons together on why this affects me so much until now. In the article, The Role of Emotion in Memory by Dr. McPherson’s explains that emotional arousal creates a long-term effect on memory. Which truly explains the reasons why I can remember how happy I was on my wedding day than the actual date of the wedding.
    Perhaps the reason why you are able to remember more at the time before you sleep is because your emotional state is more positive than other times in the day and this creates more contextual details and allows you to remember what you are studying at the time.

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