Why Are We Forgetting Things And How To Overcome The Forgetting Curve?

Probably, you have noticed that you forget the things you learnt and even used to be quite good at. A logical question would be - WHY DO I FORGET WHAT I HAVE LEARNT? In this article, I will share some notions related to the capacity of our memory and whether it is possible whatsoever to prevent the forgetting curve.

Before diving deep into the matter, I would like you to self-reflect by answering one simple question - what kind of information do you tend to forget? I assume your response might be quite specific and you would probably start naming some obvious pieces of information such as unnecessary phone numbers or exam information you were preparing for a long time ago. But if I ask the same question to the cognitive psychologist, the most likely answer might be - in general, people forget unnecessary information which our brain defines as pointless. It would be fair to mention that decluttering of our home is a common routine in our everyday life, however, not everyone thinks about mental decluttering. Due to the overload and constant overflow of information, it is becoming vital to empty our memory of unnecessary information. It can be easily compared to our laptop capacity and what happens to the productivity of your device when you run out of storage. It happens to me all the time despite the fact I clean the arteries of my computer regularly. Yet, it seems to be not enough for the ultimate performance. Another analogy relates to the intake of unnecessary online junk which we consume every day not all the time following a strong desire but rather a habit of scrolling down the feed of some social media. With this overflow of digital junk, it is getting more difficult to focus on something for a long time and as a result, it causes an effect on our memory. A lower attention span is just one of the obstacles which we encounter when we need to remember something. Over a hundred years ago a German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus founded an experiment on memory and the way people can remember more in the long term. He came to the conclusion that there is a forgetting curve. Hermann Ebbinghaus depicted his findings in a comprehensible line graph, where we can easily notice when an average person starts forgetting information. Surprisingly enough, it happens after the first 20 minutes of exposure to the material. What is even more surprising and sad at the same time is that around 60 per cent of the input is forgotten during the first hour after exposure to the information. And if there is no or minor exposure to the material later, the chances of forgetting it are drastically high. However, the outcomes can be less dramatic in case the learner reviews the material 1 hour after the lecture. Does it remind you of something?

The teachers at school giving homework and asking to revise the material after school? At that point neither you nor me could think about the real benefit of doing so, otherwise, we would definitely sacrifice this 1 bloody hour of revision straight after school for the sake of spending more time with our friends outdoors. Imagine, we revise it after school, but suddenly, next week there is a feeling of vagueness in our mind and a feeling that we do not know anything…. Feels familiar? This leads us to a logical question about the frequency of revision. Is 1 review enough to remember it forever? Definitely not, at least for the average human being. And this is the moment when the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve comes into place. According to the research, the exposure to the material should be immediately after the lecture, then the next day, then in a week and finally (or not) in a month or sooner. No doubt, it depends on personal features, interest in the subject, distractions and many other factors. What I can confidently admit, frequency matters a lot. As we can notice, the material should be reviewed at least 3 times after the first exposure to the input. The results confirmed the forgetting curve in the recent Dutch research of The University of Amsterdam. The frequency of reviews does not guarantee that information can be stored forever but there is a high probability that this information can be retrieved easier in 1 month or so. In the next article, I will share some handy approaches to reviewing the materials learnt.

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