Why Do We Forget What We Read? Psychologists May Have The Answer

This is a question that has been puzzling people for centuries. Why do we forget what we read, sometimes just minutes after reading it? Aren’t our brains supposed to be able to store information? Psychologists may have finally found an answer.

Table of contents

Why do we forget what we read?

It could be that the information wasn’t interesting or engaging enough to begin with, making it more difficult to remember. Alternatively, it could be that the information was presented in a way that made it difficult to understand or follow. Additionally, outside factors such as stress or fatigue can also make it more difficult to recall information.

Forgetting can also simply be a result of the passage of time. As time goes on, we tend to forget things that we don’t use regularly. This is known as “use it or lose it” and is why it’s important to keep your mind active and engaged.

The psychology behind forgetting

One reason is that the information was never encoded in memory in the first place. This can happen when someone is not paying attention to what they are trying to learn or remember. Another reason for forgetting is that the information is encoded in a way that makes it difficult to retrieve. This can happen when the information is stored in a disorganized way, or when it is similar to other information that is already stored in memory.

The forgetting curve is a phenomenon first described by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in the late 1800s. The forgetting curve shows that people tend to forget information over time unless they review it or practice it regularly. The forgetting curve is thought to be due to the way information is stored in memory. When we first learn something, it is stored in what is called “short-term memory”. This is the part of memory that holds information for a short period of time, typically less than 30 seconds. In order for information to be transferred to “long-term memory”, where it can be stored for a longer period of time, it needs to be rehearsed or practiced regularly.

One strategy is called “spaced repetition”. This involves reviewing information at increasing intervals of time. For example, if you are trying to memorize a list of vocabulary words, you would review the words more frequently at first, and then less frequently as time goes on. Another strategy is called “mnemonic devices”. This involves using a technique to help remember information. One example of a mnemonic device is the “Method of Loci”. This involves picturing oneself walking through a familiar place, such as one’s home, and placing the items to be remembered at different locations along the way.

One final strategy for improving memory is to simply get enough sleep! Sleep is important for memory consolidation, which is the process by which information is transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory.

How our brain processes information during reading

When we read, our brain is constantly working to piece together the meaning of the text. It does this by recognizing patterns and using prior knowledge to fill in the gaps.

The brain is very good at this process, but it can be easily overloaded when there is too much information to process. This is why it is important to keep the text concise and to the point. Otherwise, our brain will start to fill in the gaps with information that may not be accurate.

In order to improve your reading comprehension, it is important to practice active reading. This means that you should be constantly asking yourself questions about the text and trying to summarize what you have read. This will help your brain to better process the information and will improve your understanding of the material.

The importance of rereading and taking notes

First, it allows you to catch any errors or typos that you may have missed the first time around. Second, it helps you to better understand and remember the material. And finally, taking notes while you reread can help you to focus on the most important information.

When taking notes, it is important to be concise and to focus on the most important points. Write down key concepts and ideas, and make sure to include any specific details that you want to remember. If possible, try to organize your notes in a way that makes sense to you. This will make it easier to review them later on.

Forgetting as a learning strategy

There is a lot of evidence that supports the idea that forgetting can actually help us learn. One reason for this is that forgetting can act as a form of “cognitive cleansing.” When we forget something, we are getting rid of information that is no longer important or relevant, which makes it easier for us to focus on what is important.

Forgetting can also help us learn by providing us with a way to test our knowledge. If we can’t remember something, it means that we don’t really know it as well as we thought we did. This realization can motivate us to go back and study the material again so that we can better remember it in the future.

Optimal forgetting: when less is more

It is well known that memory is imperfect. We often forget things that we have learned, and this forgetting can be costly – leading to lost information, decreased productivity, and decreased satisfaction. However, recent research has shown that there may be benefits to forgetting as well. In particular, forgetting can lead to what is known as “optimal forgetting”, which is when the forgetting of certain information leads to overall better performance.

There are a few different ways in which optimal forgetting can occur. One way is through what is known as “interference-based forgetting”. This occurs when the forgetting of some information leads to the better rememberance of other, related information. For instance, if you forget the name of a person you met at a party, you may be more likely to remember their face next time you see them. Interference-based forgetting can also occur when the forgetting of some information helps us to better focus on other information. For instance, if you forget the details of a meeting that you had, you may be better able to focus on the meeting that you have coming up.

Another way in which optimal forgetting can occur is through what is known as “reorganization-based forgetting”. This occurs when the forgetting of some information leads to the better organization of other, related information. For instance, if you forget the name of a person you met at a party, you may be better able to remember the name of the person you met at the last party. Reorganization-based forgetting can also occur when the forgetting of some information helps us to better categorize other information. For instance, if you forget the details of a meeting that you had, you may be better able to categorize the meeting as “important” or “not important”.

Optimal forgetting can have a number of benefits. First, it can lead to improved performance on tasks that require the remembrance of information. Second, it can lead to improved satisfaction with one’s memory. And third, it can lead to a decreased need for rehearsal or review of information.

Retrieval practice and the spacing effect

Retrieval practice is a powerful learning technique that has been shown to boost performance on tests and exams. The spacing effect is a well-established phenomenon in memory research, whereby spreading out study over time leads to better retention than cramming everything into a single session.

Combining these two principles, it stands to reason that retrieval practice spaced out over time would be an even more effective way to learn. And indeed, this is what the research shows. Spacing out retrieval practice leads to better memory performance than massed practice (cramming everything into a single session).

There are a few different ways to space out retrieval practice. One popular method is called the “leitner system”. This involves creating a set of cards, with each card containing a question on one side and the answer on the other.

To use the leitner system, you start by answering some of the questions on the cards. As you go along, you keep track of which questions you get right and which ones you get wrong.

For the questions that you get right, you move them to a different pile. For the questions that you get wrong, you move them back to the first pile. This way, you’re constantly reviewing the material that you find most difficult.

The leitner system is a great way to space out your retrieval practice, but it’s not the only way. You can also simply review your material on a regular basis, gradually increasing the intervals between each review.

The role of sleep in forgetting

Some researchers believe that sleep plays an important role in forgetting, while others believe that sleep does not play a significant role in forgetting. However, there is evidence to suggest that sleep may indeed play a role in forgetting.

One study found that when people were asked to remember a list of words, they were more likely to forget the words if they slept after learning the list, compared to if they stayed awake. This suggests that sleep may help to consolidate memories and make them less likely to be forgotten.

Another study found that people who napped after learning a new task were better able to remember the task when they woke up, compared to people who did not nap. This suggests that napping may help to boost memory consolidation and reduce forgetting.

Emotional intensity and forgetting

It has been shown that when people are exposed to emotionally intense experiences, they often have difficulty remembering details of those experiences. This phenomenon is known as emotional intensity and forgetting.

There are a number of theories that attempt to explain why this occurs. One theory suggests that when we are experiencing strong emotions, we are more likely to focus on the central aspects of the experience and to filter out peripheral details. This focus on the central aspects of the experience can lead to a kind of tunnel vision, which can make it difficult to remember peripheral details.

Another theory suggests that strong emotions can lead to a kind of mental overload, which can make it difficult to process and remember all of the details of the experience.

Whatever the cause, emotional intensity and forgetting can have a significant impact on our ability to remember important details, especially if the details are peripheral to the main event. This phenomenon may have implications for eyewitness testimony, as well as for our ability to remember other important events in our lives.

Why we forget: theories and explanations

One popular theory is that forgetting occurs due to interference. This means that new information can interfere with our ability to recall old information. Another explanation for forgetting is called retrieval failure, which suggests that we forget things because we simply cannot retrieve the information from our memory. This can be due to a number of factors, including forgetting where we stored the information or not having access to the right cues that would help us remember. Finally, another explanation for forgetting is called encoding failure, which suggests that we forget things because we never properly encoded or stored the information in our memory in the first place.


Have you ever read an article and then forgotten what it was about by the time you reached the end? You’re not alone. Psychologists have been trying to figure out why we forget for years, and they may have finally come up with an answer. It turns out that there are two main reasons why we forget what we read – lack of interest and cognitive overload. Once we understand these two factors, we can start to use them to our advantage in order to remember more of what we read. Applying these principles should help keep your memory sharp when reading online content. Do you have any tricks that help you remember information better? Let us know in the comments!