Memory Loss and Retrieval

Clayton Moore
Introduction to Psychology

Chapter 4: Memory
Memory Loss and Retrieval

Psychologists and others in the field have spent more than a few decades struggling to learn and explain why we forget things; why we are unable to recall memories that are quite certainly there.

While there is a myriad of terms tossed about to describe memory and issues in retrieving memory, none have as of yet, denote any concrete reasons for the inability of people to recall a particular memory.

Researchers have conducted experiments both in prescribed settings and outside in the real world. Numerous experiments seem to sufficiently promote particular explanations for both memory loss and memory retrieval, yet none appear to have produced tangible results that would withstand a substantial shift of theory.

One leading theory of forgetting is that of Trace Decay Theory. The basis of this Trace Decay theory posits that all memories result from either a physical or chemical change in the nervous system. It is further thought that even though a memory may not be readily retrieved, that there is a trace of the memory stored within the brain.

Trace Decay Theory is quite simple; it assumes the only relevant issue is the amount of time, between creating a memory and attempting to retrieve it. Due to the virtual inability of researchers to test this theory, there is not much evidence to support it.

Another theory put forward to explain memory loss is the Displacement Theory. Simply put, Displacement Theory suggests the loss from short term memory (STM), is due merely to lack of space.

Consider if you will, attempting to save a quantity of different files to a compact disc (CD); and receiving an error message stating that there is insufficient space on the disc. More or less, this describes Displacement Theory.

Among the numerous theories for forgetting, the Theory of Interference is a prominent one. This theory, while mainly applied to Long Term Memory (LTM), can be stretched to include Short Term Memory, otherwise known as Working Memory.

The premise of Interference Theory is that memories can become intertwined and thus become confused thereby resulting in the loss of original and particular memory. Throughout the mid twentieth century, most psychologists were to attribute memory loss to this described interference.

In its basic form, Interference Theory says that one memory can disrupt another. Two ways are thus described for forgetting. The first, Proactive Interference; this will likely prevent one from learning a new task or skill when one similar has already been learnt and practiced.

The second element is referred to as Retroactive Interference. This might very well explain why some may have difficulty recalling previously learned skills as new learning disrupts and confuses an older one. Again, this is especially true when one is studying two very similar subjects or skills.

In brief, Short Term Memory (i.e. Working Memory), is prone to distractions. In other words; one doesn’t get a chance to process a particular memory due to outside influences and distractions.

Computers were developed to analyze and store information for later retrieval. Our brains similarly process information. While ones and zeros are written onto a computer storage device, the data we process is associated mostly with sound and images; utilizing our senses of hearing, seeing and feeling.

The means by which we store and retrieve information in our brains is similar to that in a computer; of course, the computer to an extent, was designed to mimic the human brain and its abilities.

What the computer does with ones and zeros, our human brains do physiologically. chemical and electrical-like pulses are transmitted within our bodies to which results in the storing of a memory. The computer however, is much simpler than our brain. A computer can be turned on and off. And generally, has only two ways in which its information is processed; either stored or deleted.

The computer, like our own brain, indeed has a Short-Term Memory. Most people don’t consider it, but it does and it’s called; Random Access Memory (RAM). When the computer is turned off, everything stored in the RAM will be permanently deleted. Also, the space available for the temporary storage of information in RAM is very limited.

How alike is the human brain’s Short-Term Memory and the RAM of a computer? Our brain’s Short-Term Memory, like that of the computer’s RAM, has limited capacity to hold information. This information must be quickly gathered, processed and then encoded into our Long-Term Memories if we wish to retain it. If we do nothing with it, is the information (memory) lost? Does our Short-Term Memory act like the Random-Access Memory of a computer? Can it be shut off? If so, do we have the ability to consciously turn it on and off?

Opinion & Christian Response

The topic of and loss of memory is of great interest to me. From a very early age, I have had great difficulty not only committing new information into my long-term memory but difficulty retrieving as well. Unlike most, I am unable to memorize even passages of scripture. Regardless of how much I rehearse a passage, it is extremely difficult to store it in memory. As for doing things like simply reading a book; I can read one fully, multiple times, and still be unable to have a coherent conversation with someone about its subject.

Unless I immediately physically practice a new task or skill repeatedly and consistently, I will be unable to recall it. I feel that I would have been an excellent test subject for psychologists studying memory loss.

I don’t have as much trouble recalling a prior memory as I do in simply trying to store a new one. One theory that was offered, was that my inability to create new memories was due to terms of depression which I have suffered here and there. Since I cannot completely subscribe to that theory, I must continue my search for explanations of memory loss and the inability to form new memories.

As a student studying at Christian Leaders Institute and in the Bachelor of Divinity program, this issue with memory is quite relevant and forefront in my daily routines. I can honestly say that while I have always been concerned about my difficulties with memory, I didn’t become all that interested in learning the reasons for the loss of memory or ways in which I could improve, until taking this course.

For all the effort which has gone into; and continues to go into understanding and explaining memory and how we keep it or lose it, as a Christian, I don’t believe we will fully grasp and comprehend it because we are missing the most important element; the God element.

Without this God Element, we will never completely understand how memory, let alone any other bodily function works. Indeed, I do believe that an element exists that God has not yet revealed.

We were designed by God, not to act independently; but rather to interact with Him on some spiritual and emotional level. Therefore, since we do not interact with God as we were fully designed to do, so many things will remain hidden from us; not of His doing but as a result of our own.

Throughout this course and the little bit of research I have done, I read quite a bit about how some people have the extraordinary ability to encode and recall memories and information. I wondered; did I miss a school course? Was there a class taught on how to use and improve memory? If not, there should have been.

I often tell people that while God was handing out the gift of memory, I was in another line. However, I pray often for God to help me out and improve my memory a bit; to help me remember something. He has helped. I truly believe that the more we interact with God, the more we will grasp the abilities He has given us.

Heffner, C. (
McLeod, S. (2008)
Heydaya, R. (2011) psychology today


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