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This study is based on the theory of cue dependent forgetting - more specifically, context dependent forgetting - a phenomena in cognitive psychology, proposed by Tulving and Pearlstone (1979).

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Abstract This study is based on the theory of cue dependent forgetting - more specifically, context dependent forgetting - a phenomena in cognitive psychology, proposed by Tulving and Pearlstone (1979). A study by Abernathy (1940) has been replicated, using an experimental method to test the alternative hypothesis that recall is better in the same environment as information is learnt. With a significant difference of 7% higher recall in the same environment as information was learnt, the alternative hypothesis has been accepted. Introduction Background research This investigation involves research into memory, which is part of cognitive psychological theory. The cognitive approach assumes that the brain is an information processor with inputs, processes and outputs. Memory is one such process, where information is encoded, stored and then recalled. One theory of memory is the multi-store model, proposed by Atkinson and Shiffrin, which suggests there are three different memory stores - sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory. This study is concerned with long-term memory. Relating to memory is forgetting, or failure to recall information. There are two main theories of forgetting, one of which explains when information is not recalled because it is unavailable, and the other when it is inaccessible. This study focuses on cue-dependent memory. In trace decay, information is unavailable (the memory trace has disappeared) whereas with cue dependent forgetting the information just cannot be accessed without appropriate cues to aid recall. Tulving (1979) used the term, 'context dependent forgetting', saying that external cues (contextual and environmental variables) and internal cues (psychological and physiological variables) affect recall. He put forward his encoding specificity principle, which states: "The probability of successful retrieval of the target item is an . . . increasing function of informational overlap between the information contained in the retrieval cue and the information stored as memory" Abernathy (1940) discovered that students' recall was better when tested in the same room where they learnt. ...read more.


On command from the experimenter, the predetermined groups went to their respective locations. Once seated, all participants had a free recall test for a timed period of three minutes. Results Fig 1. Table of results Number of words recalled out of 25 (A) Classroom Dining hall Number of participants (B) Total words recalled (A x B) Number of participants (C) Total words recalled (A x C) 1 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 0 5 0 0 0 0 6 1 6 0 0 7 1 7 2 14 8 1 8 5 40 9 0 0 1 9 10 0 0 5 50 11 4 44 2 22 12 5 60 0 0 13 2 26 1 13 14 0 0 2 28 15 4 60 0 0 16 1 16 0 0 17 0 0 0 0 18 0 0 1 18 19 0 0 0 0 20 0 0 0 0 21 0 0 0 0 22 0 0 0 0 23 0 0 0 0 24 0 0 0 0 25 0 0 0 0 Total 19 227/475 19 194/475 The raw data from the experiment is displayed in figure 1. The data has been summarised for analysis to its central tendency and its dispersion (see figure 2). The mean was calculated by dividing the sum of the total words recalled by nineteen, the median is the middle value (in this case the tenth piece of data), and the mode is the most frequent result. Dividing the total number of words recalled by the total possible number of words and then multiplying it by one hundred calculated the total percentage recall. Fig 2. Summary table of results Classroom Dining hall Mean 11.95 10.21 Median 12 10 Mode 12 8 and 10 Range 10 11 Percentage of total words recalled 47.8% 40.8% Summary table commentary The summary table shows that recall was higher in the classroom with a total recall of 48% compared to 41% in the dining hall which is a 7% difference. ...read more.


As one class of students regularly learns in the classroom of the experiment, it is possible that they associate it with learning, so half of each class was put in each context group to limit participant variables. More realistically a method of repeated measures could have been used which would involve repeated the experiment with the groups taking the recall test in the other place. However, this poses the problem of order effects where performance can improve through the practice effect or deteriorate through the fatigue effect. Implications of the study This study supports the findings of Godden and Baddeley and Abernathy who found recall to be consistently better when it takes place where information was encoded. Context can act as a cue to aid recall so inaccessible items of information can be retrieved in the right context. Generalisation It can be questioned how far the findings of this study can be generalised despite the fact that they support other studies such as those of Godden and Baddeley, Abernathy and Klatzky. Due to possibility of demand characteristics evident in this study and the bias in the opportunistic sampling, the results fail to provide sufficient evidence that context aids recall for the entire populace, therefore the findings cannot be generalised very far. The sample was very biased so the furthest the findings could be generalised would be to AS psychology students at the Hewett sixth form. Application of study to everyday life Context dependent memory has a number of practical applications. One of these is in criminal investigations, as witnesses can be returned to a crime scene where contextual cues may aid their recall. In addition, police stage reconstructions to trigger recall. The theory of context dependent memory can be applied to education as it suggests that formal examinations, which invariably take place in large halls, put students at a disadvantage. Therefore, it could be suggested that revision is done in a classroom which is closer in context than somewhere such as a bedroom is. ...read more.

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