Definition in psychology

Forgetting is a natural process that consists in the complete or partial loss of previously perceived information and manifests itself in two forms:

  • inability to recognize and remember;
  • distorted recall or recognition.

Forgetting is the loss of certain information. The process can be characterized by a decrease in the strength of traces of the material, its disappearance without a trace, or the loss of communication between individual elements, leading to data distortion.

Psychologists offer two classifications, compiled on a certain basis:

  • filtering irrelevant information by partially or completely deleting them from memory;
  • temporary and long-term manifestation of the repression of traces of information.

There is also a classification of the causes of forgetting:

  • repression of data at an unconscious level;
  • amnesia is a form of mental disorder;
  • suppression – conscious exclusion from the memory of some events or actions;
  • extinction and distortion of unclaimed knowledge;
  • interference – mixing new knowledge with old memories, interfering with memorization and leading to partial forgetting.

The German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus revealed patterns in the disappearance of meaningless material from memory. The graphic forgetting curve reflects the remembered information as a percentage at a certain point in time.

Words that do not cause any semantic associations are quickly forgotten. After the first hour after memorization, about 60% of the material disappears from the head. After 9 hours, a person remembers 36% of the information, after 6 days – 25%, about the same or slightly less than the originally learned information remains in the head in a month.

forgetting mechanism

Any information is forgotten to some extent over time. The displacement of its traces from the memory occurs in order to preserve the brain structures. The process of forgetting usually takes place in the brain with the participation of nerve cells. Excessive forgetfulness can indicate various brain disorders or overwork. Often, memory lapses are due to an adaptive process that the body needs.

There are certain laws of forgetting. Conclusions and general provisions are remembered better than individual details. Mechanically memorized material is forgotten quickly. Meaningful memorization slowly displaces information from memory.

There is complete and partial, long and temporary forgetting.

  • With the complete erasure of knowledge from memory, the subject cannot reproduce or even recognize any data.
  • If an individual has partially forgotten the material, then he is able to recognize and reproduce it with errors or to restore well only a certain fragment in memory.
  • With prolonged forgetting, a person cannot restore the material in memory partially or completely. He is unable to remember anything for a long time.
  • Often, for some reason, a person cannot reproduce the information at the moment. But after a while, the necessary material is remembered.

With complete forgetting of information, the breakdown of nerve connections in the brain occurs. Temporary displacement of traces is due to their inhibition, and long-term forgetting is due to their extinction. The laws of forgetting are such that strong experiences and traumatic memories that pose a threat to mental health are erased from memory. The defense mechanism is activated. In this case, the main motivation of the brain is to get rid of negative information.

The lack of reinforcement of the learned material leads to the extinction of the skill. The longer and more accurately the person uses the learned information, the longer they are not deleted from memory. The frequency of application of knowledge affects the mechanism of forgetting.

The reasons

Psychologists identify a number of factors that affect the exclusion of various events from the memory.

  • The most common reason for forgetting is lack of demand for information. Students in secondary and higher educational institutions do not store in memory all the material received over a long period of time. The acquired knowledge and skills that a person uses are remembered. The rest of the data that is not of interest to the subject or does not apply is erased from memory.
  • The age of the individual affects the process of forgetting. Children’s amnesia is characteristic of babies. People cannot remember events that happened to them before the age of three. Experts attribute this phenomenon to a limited vocabulary and lack of experience in the baby. In addition, the child does not yet feel like a person. The most intensive process of memory impairment occurs after the onset of menopause. It is difficult for the elderly to remember new information, to reproduce recent events. They tend to forget what they have to do. Of particular difficulty is the collision with new circumstances, unusual actions. It takes a lot of time for older people to master them. Psychologists recommend that they use various memos and use mnemonic techniques.
  • The reason may be interference. In this case, previous or subsequent events interfere with the memorization of the necessary information. For example, a student is preparing hard for an exam. And suddenly he is told the sad news. As a result of proactive interference, newly acquired knowledge is partially forced out of memory. Retroactive interference is learning new material immediately after learning another skill. For example, a student needs to learn two subjects at once. He must pass two tests in a day. This will affect the quality of knowledge. When passing similar disciplines on the same day, interference occurs only during the acquisition of the first skill. The study of the second subject deepens the knowledge of the first discipline.
  • The speed of forgetting is influenced by the absence of a break in the moments of activity. Inhibition of brain neurons is associated with human fatigue. Even a small break in the process of studying or working improves the process of memorization. Timely rest contributes to the restoration of memory in full.
  • Various diseases of the central nervous system, brain injuries and bruises also contribute to the erasure of knowledge. In case of loss of functions of some tissues, informative blocks may disappear entirely from memory.


There are the following patterns of memorization:

  • the information located at the beginning or end of the text is well fixed in memory, and the middle part is usually forgotten or poorly remembered;
  • unusual, original and funny material easily settles in the head;
  • information that affects the emotional sphere or is of great interest is remembered easily and firmly.

An important remedy for erasing information from memory is repetition. The process of forgetting can be prevented by repeating the material at the initial stage of its development, because knowledge is quickly lost at first. When the educational material is almost forgotten, it is already difficult to restore it in memory. The Russian teacher K. D. Ushinsky compared this process with a building, which is easier to strengthen immediately than to constantly repair the ruins later. Repeat new information immediately, then it will take less time to repeat and it will be easier to reproduce it.

The application of acquired knowledge in practice also prevents the process of forgetting. A student who constantly solves problems or performs exercises firmly fixes specific rules in his memory.