This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 06 table of contents.

The Forgetting Curve

Ebbinghaus, using the savings measure of memory, discovered that the greatest amount of forgetting occurred soon after learning the list. Then the memory slowly weakened with time. The curve Ebbinghaus discovered is called the forgetting curve.

When does the most forgetting take place in the least amount of time?


The forgetting curve

Today's researchers usually express results of a memory test as a percentage of items retained. If you remember 4 of 10 items, you have 40% retention. Forgetting is the opposite of retention. If you have 40% retention, you have 60% forgetting.

What did Linton study? How did her results differ from the classic forgetting curve?

Other researchers, using similar laboratory tasks, confirmed the basic shape of the forgetting curve discovered by Ebbinghaus. However, personal event memories (memories for single events in life) may follow a different forgetting curve. Marigold Linton (1979) wrote down two memorable events every day for six years, then systematically tested her recall of these events. She found that she lost the ability to retrieve 5-6% of the items per year. She did not find the same curve as Ebbinghaus. Her data fell on a straight line. This illustrates how sometimes a pattern that occurs in laboratory settings may not appear in more naturalistic situations.


Write to Dr. Dewey at psywww@gmail.com.

Don't see what you need? Psych Web has over 1,000 pages, so it may be elsewhere on the site. Do a site-specific Google search using the box below.

Custom Search

Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey