Cue-Dependent Forgetting Theory by Tulving
The theory being tested is the Cue-dependent forgetting theory by
Tulving. Cue-dependent forgetting means that ‘information is stored in
the long-term memory but there is no suitable retrieval cue from the
environment to prompt memory.’ This means that information is
available but is not accessible. An example of this is if you forget
something about your childhood and you visit your old school/house it
may help you remember by acting as a cue.
Tulving split cue-dependent forgetting into two different types. One
type is State dependent forgetting, which is the
physical/physiological state of the person when the information is
encoded and retrieved, examples of these are, happy or sad, alert or
tired etc. These are internal cues.
The other is Context dependent forgetting, this is the environment
setting or situation in which the information is encoded or retrieved,
an example of this is a particular room etc. These are external cues.
A study that supports Tulving’s theory is Aggleton and Waskett (1999)
smells aid the recall of Viking experiences?’ The aim of
this study was to test whether smells could act as cues to real life
setting because most other studies of this nature had been done in a
laboratory setting. The sample was 45 participants who had been to the
Jorvik Viking Centre and used authentic smells from the actual museum
in the study. The participants were given the same questionnaire of 20
questions and were split into three groups. There were three
conditions; the first condition was of Jorvik smells, e.g. burnt wood,
fish and rope. The second condition was of irrelevant smells e.g.
peppermint and the third condition was no smells. Group one had Viking
smells followed by irrelevant smells, group two had irrelevant smells
followed by Viking smell and the third group had the no smell
condition followed by the no smell condition. The results show that
all the groups remembered more items on the second test than on the
first. Group two had the greatest improvement. The mean number of the
20 questions correct for this group improved from 0.9 to 10.7. This
supports the idea that smells act as a cue to aid memory.
A study that refutes Tulving’s cue-dependent theory is Underwood
(1957); he did a study on proactive interference long-term memory
looking at retention rates of material over 24 hours. Proactive
interference is where material you leaned first, interferes with
material that you learn later. Participants were shown lists of
nonsense words over a set time. Underwood found that the more nonsense
word lists the subjects had learnt before, the greater their
forgetting of new nonsense word lists after a 24 hour delay.
Participants forgot approximately 80% of words when they were given
lists with more than 15 words to remember, then when questioned on the
following day, against 20% of material forgotten if no earlier lists
had been learned. Underwood concluded that it was the new nonsense
words that got confused with the words from the old lists.
Underwood’s study refutes Tulving’s cue dependant forgetting theory
and states that it is the interference of the new words, which makes
the participants forget the old words. Another background study is
Schab (1991). This study supports Tulving’s cue dependant theory.
Schab did an experiment where 72 Yale graduates took part either, 1.
In the presence of chocolate odour or 2. In an unscented environment
or 3. By following instructions to imagine and think about the odour.
The results show that recall was 17% higher in the chocolate odour
condition compared to the unscented conditions. Schab carried out
another experiment and recall was better with the same odour present
at encoding and retrieval. Another study that supports Tulving’s Cue
dependent theory is Bower (1981) who manipulated the mood of his
participants using hypnosis. The conditions were a happy or sad state
of mind. Participants who encoded and recalled information while in a
happy state of mind allowed greater accessibility to their memories.
Those who encoded information in a happy state of mind but recalled in
a sad state of mind seemed to remember less information.
Schab’s study relates to my study the only difference is that one
group of participants, Group A will be eating chocolate at encoding
and retrieval and Group B will eat chocolate only at encoding rather
then having a chocolate odour. We have chosen that the participants
eat the chocolate because we think it will have more of an effect on
them than just the odour of chocolate and it is more true to life. We
expect to find that in Group A, participants who eat chocolate at the
encoding and retrieval of words will remember significantly more words
than Group B, who only eat at the encoding of words. We predict this
because participants in Group A will be in the same state of mind at
the encoding and retrieval of words.
The aim of this study is to find out whether eating chocolate at the
encoding and retrieval of words acts as a cue for memory and can help
to recall words.
Participants eating chocolate at both encoding and retrieval will
remember significantly more words, from a word list than participants
who just eat chocolate at encoding.
Method and design
The most appropriate method for testing my hypothesis is a field
experiment I have chosen this method because it will be in the
participant’s natural setting. The natural setting will be in a
classroom where you would usually expect to see students. Previous
research used was done as a laboratory experiment. Therefore my study
is more relevant to real life.
The design will be an independent measures design because there are
two groups of 15 participants; the groups will have a different
condition. Group A will get a square of chocolate at the encoding and
retrieval of words and Group B will be given a square of chocolate
only at the encoding of words. An independent measures design is the
most appropriate because it reduces order of effect as participants
only do one condition.
The independent variable is the two conditions, which are, Group A,
who eat chocolate at encoding and retrieval and Group B who eat
chocolate only at the encoding of words. The dependent variable is how
many words the participants remember from a list.
The sampling method used will be opportunity sampling as the
experiment will take place at the college, opportunity sampling is the
quickest and convenient way to get participants, there is easy access
There will be 30 participants taking part in the experiment (15 in
each group). This experiment doesn’t require certain characteristics
in participants as it is testing memory.
Participants will be asked if they would take part in the experiment,
they were given no information about what would happen during the
experiment and were given standardised instructions when they agreed
to take part. (See appendix 1)
The participants will be given a list of 15 words (see appendix 2) and
a square of chocolate. The participants will have 30 seconds to learn
the words and to eat the square of chocolate. After 30 seconds has
passed a passage will be read to the participants for 2 minutes. This
will be an intervening task. After the passage is read out Group A
will be given another square of chocolate to eat and all participants
will have 1 minute to write down the words previously learnt. An
intervening task is used to cleat the participant’s short-term memory.
The participants will be debriefed after the experiment. (See appendix
The variables that need to be controlled are the amount of chocolate
given to each participant in the groups. The time at the encoding and
retrieval of the words needs to be the same for the experiment to work
well. Both groups of participants will take part in the experiment on
the same day at the same time in the same room.
The ethical issues that need to be considered are consent, debriefing
and withdrawal. All participants gave consent when they were asked to
take part in the experiment. The participants have to be debriefed
about the aims of the study after they have participated. The
participants are able to ask questions about the experiment. The
participants should be informed that they can withdraw their data at
Table to show how many words out of 15 participants in Group A, eating
chocolate at encoding and retrieval of the words and Group B, eating
chocolate only at the encoding of words, got correct.
Measure of central tendency
Group A, chocolate at encoding and retrieval of words
Group B, chocolate only at encoding of words
Mean number of words remembered
Mode number of words remembered
Median number of words remembered
Range number of words remembered
The table shows that Group B, who ate chocolate only at the encoding
of words remembered more words than Group A, who ate chocolate at both
encoding and retrieval of words. The median for Group B is 77% and the
median for Group A is 66%. This shows a 10% difference.[IMAGE]
The results show that Group B, who ate chocolate at the encoding of
words performed better on the cue dependant memory test than Group A,
who ate chocolate at both encoding and retrieval. The mean for group B
(10.3) is higher than the mean for group A (9.6).
The results show that Group B did significantly better than Group A.
The results refute the hypothesis. The mode for Group A is 60% and the
mode for Group B is 77%.
Validity is whether the experiment measures what it is supposed. The
experiment tested if eating chocolate at the encoding and retrieval of
words would act as a cue for memory and can help recall words. One of
the factors that contribute to this could be how alert the
participants were that day. Also some of the participants were
psychology students so would have had a bit of understanding of what
was expected of them. If this experiment was repeated we would make
sure that there are no psychology students who participate.
One control of this experiment turned out to be poor. The participants
came in talking and sat anywhere in the classroom. When the
standardised instructions where being read out participants were
talking and when they were encoding and retrieving the information the
majority of the participants still talking. Although at the encoding
stage of the experiment, the talking is considered as interference and
at the retrieving stage participants could have copied each other’s
answers. This makes the experiment unreliable. To prevent this from
happening participants should be isolated throughout the experiment to
make the experiment more reliable. I think this will have an effect on
the results and show more consistent results as the participants will
not be distracted. Another methodological problem with the experiment
was the method. Some participants refused to eat the chocolate that
was given to them.
Implications of the study
Tulving found that smells act as cues to aid memory. Schab’s (1991)
chocolate odour study supports Tulving’s Theory. Bower’s study of
manipulating the mood of the participants using hypnosis also supports
Tulving’s cue dependant theory. However my study refutes Tulving’s
theory. Chocolate doesn’t act as a cue and my study refutes Tulving’s
Theory as I found out that participant who ate chocolate at the
encoding and retrieval of words remembered fewer words than
participants in Group B who ate chocolate only at the encoding of
Generalisation of findings
Problems with generalising is using psychology students because they
know what to expect and are more able than using other students
Application to real life
My study shows that participants do not have to be in the same state
at encoding and retrieval. The research also shows that participants
do not have to be in the same state.
Group A-chocolate at encoding and retrieval of words
Group B-chocolate at encoding of words.
How many words in each group the participants got correct
Instructions to participants.
Thank you for considering taking part in this study. I would like to
ensure you that you will not be harmed in this experiment. You have
the right to withdraw at any time. Your results will remain anonymous.
By taking part in this experiment you have given consent. You will be
debriefed at the end of the experiment. I am now going to give you
what you have to do.
1. Here is a piece of paper with 15 words on it.
2. You will be given 30 seconds to learn these words and to eat the
square of chocolate.
3. After 30 seconds is up a passage will be read to you for 2
4. After 2 minutes has passed you will write down the 15 words
5. I will remind you throughout the experiment the next thing you
have to do.
6. At the end of the experiment you have the right to withdraw your
Group A, You have just taken part in a study to investigate whether
eating chocolate at encoding and retrieval of a list of words acts as
a cue. Group B you have just taken part in the same study but you were
only given chocolate at the encoding of words to see the effect on
The results will be available if you wish to view them. All data
collected will be kept confidential.
Word list given to participants