Retrieval failure theory

The retrieval failure theory is a theory of forgetting.

The retrieval failure theory refers to one’s incapacity to utilise internal or external cues to retrieve previously-stored information. That is, whilst the information is stored in memory and is, theoretically, available, the necessary prompts are not present. This is often exemplified by the ‘tip-of-the-tongue’ phenomenon.

The retrieval failure theory does not appear to apply to procedural memory.

Tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) phenomenon

The tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon is a significant part of the retrieval failure theory. It refers to the sensation where an individual believes that they know the answer or a particular piece of information, but is unable to retrieve it from their memory store. Experiencing this sensation can, understandably, be particularly frustrating.

One theory explaining the TOT phenomenon is that information we sometimes have great difficulty in retrieving was not encoded and/or consolidated in an effective manner.

Limitations of the retrieval failure theory