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Memory Failure

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Memory Failure

Memory Failure
Memory failure is a main focus of extensive psychological research, after memory construction was delineated into three stages; encoding, storage, and retrieval, the origin of thought behind memory failure was solely on the breakdown of the first two stages, encoding and storage, until shifting its focus at the hands of Endel Tulving, who discovered the actual primary cause was due to a disruption in the third stage, thus termed retrieval failure. Retrieval failure is simply defined as the inability to access information, and the reason behind the ‘tip of the tongue’ phenomenon.
My Failed Memory
As I walked with my patient into my first school meeting to test my ability as a community liaison, I felt confident. Not only did I wake up early enough to study her chart, background, and write down her effective coping mechanisms; I brewed a fresh cup of coffee, reminiscent of the one I drink each day and night, and arrived on-site just in time to see her arrive. As I sipped my coffee, watched her mothers van park, mouthed the words to a song on my playlist while checking my timing, I felt on top of all my tasks – surely going to impress. Shortly there after, unbeknownst to me, getting my patient out of the van and into the school was much more challenging then I planned for. Employing my verbal de-escalation skills, and helping communication tactics for Mom and daughter, I successfully aided her out of the van and onto school grounds. Leaving my coffee and her mother in the parking lot to stew. Having a good rapport with this particular patient, her mood elevated with the absence of her mother and we were able to joke with each other until we were called into the conference room with her Principal, all three guidance counselors, the security guard, and two of her problematic teachers. Focused on improving her mood for the meeting, my written sheet of information was tucked away in the magazine my patient and I were giggling at as we headed toward the meeting room. Shocked by the formality, I happily introduced myself, and waited to hear them return the courtesy, all the while realizing I was disarmed – no coffee, no notes, no problem, right? Reviewing the paperwork that I had faxed the night before, and giving me a deeper insight on her classroom struggles, eventually they prompted me on her change. “Why is she ready to come back to school after only sixteen days in your program Ms. Miller?” I opened my mouth to give my eloquently prepared answer – only to have my mind decide the timing wasn’t right. This was the moment my brain experienced retrieval failure, and as my anxieties heightened so did the walls that blocked me from accessing any data I had reviewed just hours prior.
Encoding help
Essentially, I had practiced very weak encoding, or unsubstantiated methods of processing the information. Even knowing my mind requires extra effort to remember or study due to my attention deficit disorder, I relied solely on my ‘skim the material briefly’ system; relaying heavily on my (over) confidence and derailed by my excitement. Encoding the data using a more retrospective explicit memory test, or active conscious recall from a past specified source, instead of the free recall application, which provided nothing to work with, would have benefited me drastically. Additionally and retrospectively, allowing for a more distributed repetition, or repeated presentation spread out over time, in lieu of my massed repetition, a reiteration of information occurring closely together, would have given me an advantage with the spacing effect. The spacing effect is a term used to describe an improvement in recall with a distributed repetition approach. There are two views that theorize the reasoning behind this effect; deficient processing and encoding variability view. Depicted by Robinson-Riegler (2012):
“The deficient-processing view … [suggests] you simply don’t pay much attention to the later presentations relative to the first [in massed repetition]. The encoding variability view … [states] when repetitions are distributed over time, each encoding will be relatively distinct from the others, so you’re more likely to ‘stumble upon’ one of them during your memory search (p.224).”
As previously stated, giving myself more time to review and distributing my overview of the chart over a period of time, rather than just two sessions the night before and day of, could of improved the encoding of her patient information and intensify ease of recall.
Retrieval cue. Retrieval failure, as explained previously, is the inability to access information that is stored. With prevention in mind, the researchers responsible for the creation of retrieval failure theory deduced that retrieval cues were vital in aiding recall. As defined by McLeod (2008), a retrieval cue is the information collected about the situation during memory storage and has two sub-categories; external/context and internal/state. An external or context cue would involve the environment, outside stimuli, smells, or a particular place; whereas an internal or state cue is inside of an individual; physical, emotional, or pertaining to a particular mood/state of mind. The inclusion of a retrieval cue, or of many, could have assisted me in my temporary lapse of recall by triggering the memory to become accessible. Foremost, embarking on context cues, my coffee – being the same smell and taste as I experienced during my study sessions - had the potential to spur my memory accessibility. Considering the environment could not have been changed, another popular retrieval cue in regards to external effect would be the introduction of a strong flavored gum or mint; a small, unnoticeable assist to support my remembering. In addition to context cues, it is highly conceivable that an internal cue of a positive mood during times of encoding would have enhanced my recollection. This enhancement in memory retrieval and the philosophical reasoning behind the matching of my encoding frame of mind with my positive mood at time of recall is depicted by a precept in Simply Psychology:
“Information about current mood state is often stored in the memory trace, and there is more forgetting if the mood state at the time of retrieval is different….People tend to remember better when there is a match between their mood at learning and at retrieval. The effects are stronger when the participants are in a positive mood than a negative mood (McLeod, 2008)”
Ultimately, in hindsight, a few helpful retrieval cues could have prevented my memory failure by awakening my memory traces and providing a connection to my previous memorization.
Conclusion. Eventually, words did actually form and escape from my awkwardly quiet, yet, open mouth and I was able to nominally convey the messages I was sent to contribute. Fortunately, my ever-so-clever patient lightened the mood during my unscheduled moment of silence and eased my nerves by happily stating, “Uh, sorry guys – Miss Ashley usually NEVER stops talking... (turning toward me) Miss Ashley your face is red and blotchy, use your coping skills and spit it out, this is not freeze tag.” A happy and hilarious replacement memory to have, after my necessary remembering failed, alls well that ends well.
McLeod, S. A. (2008). Forgetting. Retrieved from
Robinson-Riegler, B., & Robinson-Riegler, G. (2012). Cognitive psychology: Applying the science of the mind (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.

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