Section B - Memory
11 Memory Essay [12 Marks]
Suggested Answer: Interference theories suggest that forgetting is caused by competing memories, either because existing memories interfere with the learning of new information (proactive interference) or because new information interferes with previously learnt information (retroactive interference).
Proactive interference occurs when old information stored in long-term memory, interferes with the learning of new information. This usually occurs when the new information is similar to the old information. An everyday example of proactive interference is when you get a new mobile phone number: your memory for your old number will disrupt your attempts to remember your new number. Retroactive interference occurs when the learning of new information, interferes with the recall of old information from long-term memory. For example, once you have learned your new mobile number, it is often very difficult to recall your old number.
There is research support for interference theory. Baddeley and Hitch (1977) examined rugby union players who had played every match in the season and players who had missed some games due to injury. The players were asked to recall the names of the teams they had played against earlier in the season. Baddeley and Hitch found that players who had played the most games forgot proportionately more games than those who had played fewer games due to injury. These results support the idea of retroactive inference, as the learning of new information (new team names) interfered with the memory of old information (earlier team names).
Although interference research (proactive and retroactive) provides an insight into one type of forgetting, it only explains a specific type of forgetting – memory for similar information. For example, the results of Baddeley and Hitch demonstrate retroactive interference in rugby union players trying to recall team names from earlier that season. While this example highlights interference effects of very similar information, the research is somewhat limited as it fails to explain forgetting in other situations when information is not similar.
Furthermore, interference research is often criticised for being artificial and lacking ecological validity. Most of the research examining interference is carried out in a laboratory. For example, Keppel and Underwood found that participants typically remembered the three-letter trigrams that were presented first in a sequence, irrespective of how long the interval was between presentation and recall. Many psychologists argue that these findings lack ecological validity do not represent everyday examples of interference (or forgetting) and are limited in their application to everyday human memory.
Please Note: These answers have been produced without the knowledge of the mark scheme and merely reflect my attempt at producing a model answer on the day of the exam.
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