Friday, April 29, 2016

The Curve of Forgetting


How memory works is not a big mystery.  We can easily remember the ideas, items, and information that we turn our attention to often, and we can quickly forget the ideas, items, and information that we “touch” only once or twice.  This natural forgetfulness of information we touch only once or twice is a quality of a healthy mind--after all, why store information we tell our minds we won’t need?  So the point is simple: We tell our memories what’s important to store by how many times we practice retrieving the information.  The more times we practice—the more times we touch the information--the more permanently the information will be stored.  Before we continue, let’s look at how scientists think memory works: 100 Billion Neurons.

The Curve of Forgetting graph below (originally called The Ebbinghuas Curve after the German philosopher Hermann Ebbinghaus who developed it in 1885) demonstrates how quickly we forget new information we don’t work with repeatedly.  Here’s what the graph demonstrates: Assume that we hear ten new terms in class on Monday.  Our immediate recall, Point A of the graph, is 100%--we can repeat the terms and definitions at the point where we first encounter them.

However, if we do not repeatedly return our attention to these terms and definitions, we will forget about 40% over the first 24 hours (Point B).  If we wait another 24 hours before reviewing the information, we have lost 60% (Point C).   So we can go from a grade of ‘A’ (100%) to ‘D’ (60%), to ‘F’ (40%) in just 48 hours.

The curve of forgetting link

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