Forgetting: A forgotten issue?

Forgetting: A Forgotten Issue?
An Experimental Psychology Society Workshop
Co-Sponsored by the Royal Society of Edinburgh
University of Edinburgh
Italian Institute of Culture
14 June 2017 – F21, 7 George Square, Edinburgh


Welcome to the website for this Experimental Psychology Society workshop on Forgetting. The talks for the day will be presented by some of the international leaders in the study of human forgetting, covering healthy young adults, cognitive ageing, the impact of focal and degenerative brain damage, and the interaction between human and digital memory. Details are given in the ‘Programme’.

Attendance at the workshop is free but spaces are limited so it is important that you register in advance here. Registration will cover attendance at the talks, tea/coffee breaks, and a free buffet lunch.

Below, we offer some background to the topic of the workshop, and look forward to seeing you there.

Kind regards


Alan Baddeley                       Sergio Della Sala                   Robert H Logie



Forgetting: A Forgotten Issue?

Throughout its early years, the study of memory focused strongly on forgetting, from the demonstration by Ebbinghaus of the forgetting function through the verbal learning tradition, based as it was on interference theory and the factors that influence forgetting.  However, following the rise of the cognitive approach to psychology and the spectacular failure of the attempt by Underwood and Postman (1960) to extend interference theory beyond the laboratory through their extra experimental interference hypothesis, attempts to generate a coherent theory of forgetting greatly declined.  Unlike verbal learning with its emphasis on forgetting, the cognitive study of memory has focused principally on learning and successful retrieval.

Forgetting is, however, clearly an integral part of memory, not simply the opposite to learning. It has continued to be studied, although in a relatively fragmented way focusing on a range of different issues in different areas (Della Sala, 2010). Examples include eyewitness testimony and studies of false memory, while laboratory paradigms have focused on specific mechanisms such as the Deese-Roediger-McDermott laboratory false memory paradigm (Deese, 1959; Roediger & McDermott, 1995) and a range of studies demonstrating inhibition effects in retrieval.  An obvious application to education has recently been revived through a study of the positive effects of retrieval on long-term learning.  However, these tend to have been studied using a limited range of paradigms without leading to a broad conceptualisation of the processes underlying forgetting.

The situation has begun to change in recent years, again as a result of a number of separate phenomena.  These include the development of a dual process concept of trace consolidation, linked to separate neural mechanisms and most recently with the suggestion that the hippocampus-based episodic forgetting reflects trace decay whereas the extra-hippocampal familiarity-based systems is more subject to interference (Sadeh et al., 2014) implying that decay and interference may co-exist rather than being treated as alternatives, (e.g. Cowan et al, 2004). Another challenge to orthodox views concerns the fact that patients suffering from a range of memory deficits appear to retain what they have learned as well as controls (Greene et al., 1995; Kopelman, 1985).  A subsample of epileptic patients however, have been found to show accelerated long-term forgetting, in some cases showing normal learning over a period of hours, followed at a later point by dramatic loss of information (Butler & Zeman, 2008).  There are questions too about whether the use of digital systems and the internet may make human forgetting more extensive (e.g. Niederee et al., 2015; Sparrow et al., 2011), and how best to measure forgetting (e.g. Baddeley et al., 2014; Loftus, 1985; Wang, Logie & Jarrold, 2016)

This workshop will bring together international research leaders who actively include forgetting as part of their current research programme. Each speaker has been asked to give a brief account of the role of forgetting in their particular area and to reflect on the methods they use. The goal is to identify possible paths to solving the measurement problems and to highlight the most promising developments that might converge on a more integrated theoretical framework for understanding forgetting.


Baddeley, A., Rawlings, B., & Hayes, A. (2014). Constrained prose recall and the assessment of long-term forgetting: The case of ageing and the Crimes Test. Memory22, 1052-1059

Butler, C. R., & Zeman, A. (2008). Recent insights into the impairment of memory in epilepsy: Transient epileptic amnesia, accelerated long-term forgetting and remote memory impairment. Brain, 131, 2243-2263.

Cowan, N., Beschin N., & Della Sala, S. (2004). Verbal recall in amnesiacs under conditions of diminished retroactive interference. Brain, 127, 825-834.

Deese, J. (1959). Influence of inter-item associative strength upon immediate free recall. Psychological Reports, 5, 305-312.

Della Sala, S. (2010). Forgetting. Hove: Psychology Press.

Greene, J. D., Baddeley, A. D., & Hodges, J.R. (1996). Analysis of the episodic memory deficit in early Alzheimer’s disease: Evidence from the doors and people test. Neuropsychologia 34, 537-551.

Kopelman, M. D. (1985). Rates of forgetting in Alzheimer-type dementia and Korsakoff’s syndrome. Neuropsychologia, 23, 623-628.

Loftus, G. R. (1985). Evaluating forgetting curves. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 11, 397-406.

Niederee, C. Kanhabua, N., Gallo, F., & Logie, R.H. (2015). Forgetful digital memory: Towards brain-inspired long-term data and information management. ACM Digital Library: SIGMOD Record, 44, 41-46.

Roediger, H. L., III, & McDermott, K. B. (1995). Creating false memories: Remembering words not presented in lists. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 21, 803-814.

Sadeh, T., Oxubko, J. D., Winocur, G., & Moscovitch, M. (2014). How we forget may depend on how we remember. Trends in Cognitive Science, 18, 26-36.

Sparrow, B., Liu, J., & Wegner, D.M. (2011). Google effects on memory: Consequences of having information at our fingertips. Science, 333, 776-778.

Underwood, B. J., & Postman, L. (1960). Extra experimental sources of interference in forgetting. Psychological Review, 67, 73-95.

Wang, X., Logie, R., & Jarrold, C. (2016). Interpreting potential markers of storage and rehearsal: Implications for studies of verbal short-term memory and neuropsychological cases. Memory and Cognition44, 910–921.