Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

18.10: Chapter 10- Psychological Factors Affecting Learning, Memory, and Forgetting

  • Page ID
  • This page is a draft and under active development. Please forward any questions, comments, and/or feedback to the ASCCC OERI (

    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)



    Learning Objectives

    1. Identify five reasons we forget and give examples of each.
    2. Describe how forgetting can be viewed as an adaptive process.
    3. Explain the difference between anterograde and retrograde amnesia.


    This section explores the causes of everyday forgetting. Forgetting is viewed as an adaptive process that allows us to be efficient in terms of the information we retain.


    Chances are that you have experienced memory lapses and been frustrated by them. You may have had trouble remembering the definition of a key term on an exam or found yourself unable to recall the name of an actor from one of your favorite TV shows. Maybe you forgot to call your aunt on her birthday or you routinely forget where you put your cell phone. Oftentimes, the bit of information we are searching for comes back to us, but sometimes it does not. Clearly, forgetting seems to be a natural part of life. Why do we forget? And is forgetting always a bad thing?

    A woman covers her face in embarrassment.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Forgetting can often be obnoxious or even embarrassing. But as we explore this module, you’ll learn that forgetting is important and necessary for everyday functionality. [Image: jazbeck,, CC BY 2.0,]

    Causes of Forgetting

    One very common and obvious reason why you cannot remember a piece of information is because you did not learn it in the first place. If you fail to encode information into memory, you are not going to remember it later on. Usually, encoding failures occur because we are distracted or are not paying attention to specific details. For example, people have a lot of trouble recognizing an actual penny out of a set of drawings of very similar pennies, or lures, even though most of us have had a lifetime of experience handling pennies (Nickerson & Adams, 1979). However, few of us have studied the features of a penny in great detail, and since we have not attended to those details, we fail to recognize them later. Similarly, it has been well documented that distraction during learning impairs later memory (e.g., Craik, Govoni, Naveh-Benjamin, & Anderson, 1996). Most of the time this is not problematic, but in certain situations, such as when you are studying for an exam, failures to encode due to distraction can have serious repercussions.

    Another proposed reason why we forget is that memories fade, or decay, over time. It has been known since the pioneering work of Hermann Ebbinghaus (1885/1913) that as time passes, memories get harder to recall. Ebbinghaus created more than 2,000 nonsense syllables, such as dax, bap, and rif, and studied his own memory for them, learning as many as 420 lists of 16 nonsense syllables for one experiment. He found that his memories diminished as time passed, with the most forgetting happening early on after learning. His observations and subsequent research suggested that if we do not rehearse a memory and the neural representation of that memory is not reactivated over a long period of time, the memory representation (the engram) may disappear entirely or fade to the point where it can no longer be accessed. As you might imagine, it is hard to definitively prove that a memory has decayed as opposed to it being inaccessible for another reason. Critics argued that forgetting must be due to processes other than simply the passage of time, since disuse of a memory does not always guarantee forgetting (McGeoch, 1932). More recently, some memory theorists have proposed that recent memory traces may be degraded or disrupted by new experiences (Wixted, 2004).

    Memory traces need to be consolidated, or transferred from the hippocampus to more durable representations in the cortex, in order for them to last (McGaugh, 2000). When the consolidation process is interrupted by the encoding of other experiences, the memory trace for the original experience does not get fully developed and thus is forgotten.

    Cheerleaders pictured in a 1980s high school yearbook.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): At times, we will completely blank on something we’re certain we’ve learned - people we went to school with years ago for example. However, once we get the right retrieval cue (a name perhaps), the memory (faces or experiences) rushes back to us like it was there all along. [Image: sbhsclass84,, CC BY-SA 2.0,]

    Both encoding failures and decay account for more permanent forms of forgetting, in which the memory trace does not exist, but forgetting may also occur when a memory exists yet we temporarily cannot access it. This type of forgetting, failure of retrieval, may occur when we lack the appropriate retrieval cues for bringing the memory to mind. You have probably had the frustrating experience of forgetting your password for an online site. Usually, the password has not been permanently forgotten; instead, you just need the right reminder to remember what it is. For example, if your password was “pizza0525,” and you received the password hints “favorite food” and “Mom’s birthday,” you would easily be able to retrieve it. Retrieval hints can bring back to mind seemingly forgotten memories (Tulving & Pearlstone, 1966). One real-life illustration of the importance of retrieval cues comes from a study showing that whereas people have difficulty recalling the names of high school classmates years after graduation, they are easily able to recognize the names and match them to the appropriate faces (Bahrick, Bahrick, & Wittinger, 1975). The names are powerful enough retrieval cues that they bring back the memories of the faces that went with them. The fact that the presence of the right retrieval cues is critical for remembering adds to the difficulty in proving that a memory is permanently forgotten as opposed to temporarily unavailable.

    Retrieval failures can also occur because other memories are blocking or getting in the way of recalling the desired memory. This blocking is referred to as interference. For example, you may fail to remember the name of a town you visited with your family on summer vacation because the names of other towns you visited on that trip or on other trips come to mind instead. Those memories then prevent the desired memory from being retrieved. Interference is also relevant to the example of forgetting a password: passwords that we have used for other websites may come to mind and interfere with our ability to retrieve the desired password. Interference can be either proactive, in which old memories block the learning of new related memories, or retroactive, in which new memories block the retrieval of old related memories. For both types of interference, competition between memories seems to be key (Mensink & Raaijmakers, 1988). Your memory for a town you visited on vacation is unlikely to interfere with your ability to remember an Internet password, but it is likely to interfere with your ability to remember a different town’s name. Competition between memories can also lead to forgetting in a different way. Recalling a desired memory in the face of competition may result in the inhibition of related, competing memories (Levy & Anderson, 2002). You may have difficulty recalling the name of Kennebunkport, Maine, because other Maine towns, such as Bar Harbor, Winterport, and Camden, come to mind instead. However, if you are able to recall Kennebunkport despite strong competition from the other towns, this may actually change the competitive landscape, weakening memory for those other towns’ names, leading to forgetting of them instead.

    Five impediments to remembering. 1. Encoding failures – we don’t learn the information in the first place. 2. Decay – memories fade over time. 3. Inadequate retrieval cues – we lack sufficient reminders. 4. Interference – other memories get in the way. 5. Trying not to remember – we deliberately attempt to keep things out of mind.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Causes of forgetting.

    Finally, some memories may be forgotten because we deliberately attempt to keep them out of mind. Over time, by actively trying not to remember an event, we can sometimes successfully keep the undesirable memory from being retrieved either by inhibiting the undesirable memory or generating diversionary thoughts (Anderson & Green, 2001). Imagine that you slipped and fell in your high school cafeteria during lunch time, and everyone at the surrounding tables laughed at you. You would likely wish to avoid thinking about that event and might try to prevent it from coming to mind. One way that you could accomplish this is by thinking of other, more positive, events that are associated with the cafeteria. Eventually, this memory may be suppressed to the point that it would only be retrieved with great difficulty (Hertel & Calcaterra, 2005).

    Adaptive Forgetting

    A group of hikers are stopped in the middle of a trail with confused looks on their faces.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Could you imagine being unable to forget every path you have taken while hiking? Each new trip, you would be walking around the forest for days, incapable of distinguishing today’s path from the prior ones. [Image: Dan Trew,, CC BY-SA 2.0,]

    We have explored five different causes of forgetting. Together they can account for the day-to-day episodes of forgetting that each of us experience. Typically, we think of these episodes in a negative light and view forgetting as a memory failure. Is forgetting ever good? Most people would reason that forgetting that occurs in response to a deliberate attempt to keep an event out of mind is a good thing. No one wants to be constantly reminded of falling on their face in front of all of their friends. However, beyond that, it can be argued that forgetting is adaptive, allowing us to be efficient and hold onto only the most relevant memories (Bjork, 1989; Anderson & Milson, 1989). Shereshevsky, or “S,” the mnemonist studied by Alexander Luria (1968), was a man who almost never forgot. His memory appeared to be virtually limitless. He could memorize a table of 50 numbers in under 3 minutes and recall the numbers in rows, columns, or diagonals with ease. He could recall lists of words and passages that he had memorized over a decade before. Yet Shereshevsky found it difficult to function in his everyday life because he was constantly distracted by a flood of details and associations that sprung to mind. His case history suggests that remembering everything is not always a good thing. You may occasionally have trouble remembering where you parked your car, but imagine if every time you had to find your car, every single former parking space came to mind. The task would become impossibly difficult to sort through all of those irrelevant memories. Thus, forgetting is adaptive in that it makes us more efficient. The price of that efficiency is those moments when our memories seem to fail us (Schacter, 1999).


    Just as the case study of the mnemonist Shereshevsky illustrates what a life with a near perfect memory would be like, amnesiac patients show us what a life without memory would be like. Each of the mechanisms we discussed that explain everyday forgetting—encoding failures, decay, insufficient retrieval cues, interference, and intentional attempts to forget—help to keep us highly efficient, retaining the important information and for the most part, forgetting the unimportant.

    Outside Resources

    Web: Brain Case Study: Patient HM
    Web: Self-experiment, Penny demo
    Web: The Man Who Couldn’t Remember

    Discussion Questions

    1. Is forgetting good or bad? Do you agree with the authors that forgetting is an adaptive process? Why or why not?
    2. Can we ever prove that something is forgotten? Why or why not?
    3. Which of the five reasons for forgetting do you think explains the majority of incidences of forgetting?




    The fading of memories with the passage of time.
    Declarative memory
    Conscious memories for facts and events.
    Dissociative amnesia
    Loss of autobiographical memories from a period in the past in the absence of brain injury or disease.
    Process by which information gets into memory.
    Other memories get in the way of retrieving a desired memory
    Process by which information is accessed from memory and utilized.

    Anderson, J. R., & Milson, R. (1989). Human memory: An adaptive perspective. *Psychological Review*, 96, 703–719.

    Anderson, M. C., & Green, C. (2001). Suppressing unwanted memories by executive control. Nature, 410, 366–369.

    Bahrick, H. P., Bahrick, P. O., & Wittinger, R. P. (1975). Fifty years of memory for names and faces: A cross-sectional approach. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 104, 54–75.

    Bjork, R. A. (1989). Retrieval inhibition as an adaptive mechanism in human memory. In H. L. Roediger, III, & F. I. M. Craik (Eds.), Varieties of Memory and Consciousness (pp. 309– 330). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Corkin, S. (2002). What’s new with the amnesic patient H. M.? *Nature Reviews Neuroscience*, 3, 153–160.

    Craik, F. I. M., Govoni, R., Naveh-Benjamin, M., & Anderson, N. D. (1996). The effects of divided attention on encoding and retrieval processes in human memory. *Journal of Experimental Psychology: General*, 125, 159–180.

    Ebbinghaus, H. (1913). Memory. A contribution to experimental psychology. New York: Teachers College/Columbia University (Engl. ed.). (Original work published in 1885.)

    Hertel, P. T., & Calcaterra, G. (2005). Intentional forgetting benefits from thought substitution. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 12, 484–489.

    Hodges, J. R. (1994). Retrograde amnesia. In A. Baddeley, B. A. Wilson, & F. Watts (Eds.), Handbook of Memory Disorders (pp. 81–107). New York: Wiley.

    Kihlstrom, J. F. (2005). Dissociative disorders. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 227– 253.

    Kopelman, M. (2000). Focal retrograde amnesia and the attribution of causality: An exceptionally critical review. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 17, 585–621.

    Levy, B. J., & Anderson, M. C. (2002). Inhibitory processes and the control of memory retrieval. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6, 299–305.

    Luria, A. R. (1968). The mind of a mnemonist: A little book about a vast memory (L. Solataroff, Trans.). New York: Basic Books.

    McGaugh, J. L. (2000). Memory: A century of consolidation. Science, 287, 248–251.

    McGeoch, J. A. (1932). Forgetting and the law of disuse. Psychological Reviews, 39, 352– 370.

    Mensink, G., & Raaijmakers, J. G. (1988). A model for interference and forgetting. *Psychological Review*, 95, 434–455.

    Nickerson, R. S., & Adams, M. J. (1979). Long-term memory for a common object. *Cognitive Psychology*, 11, 287–307.

    Reed, J. M. & Squire, L. R. (1998). Retrograde amnesia for facts and events: Findings from four new cases. Journal of Neuroscience, 18, 3943–3954.

    Schacter, D. L. (1999). The seven sins of memory: Insights from psychology and cognitive neuroscience. American Psychologist, 54, 182–203.

    Scoville, W. B. & Milner, B. (1957). Loss of recent memory after bilateral hippocampal lesions. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, & Psychiatry, 20, 11–21.

    Squire, L. R., & Alvarez, P. (1995). Retrograde amnesia and memory consolidation: A neurobiological perspective. Current Opinions in Neurobiology, 5, 169–177.

    Tulving, E., & Pearlstone, Z. (1966). Availability versus accessibility of information in memory for words. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 5, 381–391.

    Wixted, J. T. (2004). The psychology and neuroscience of forgetting. *Annual Reviews of Psychology*, 55, 235–269.


    Adapted by Kenneth A. Koenigshofer, PhD, from Dudukovic, N. & Kuhl, B. (2021). Forgetting and amnesia. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers. Retrieved from


    • Nicole Dudukovic earned her Ph.D. in Psychology from Stanford University and has taught courses at Stanford, Trinity College, and New York University. Her research explores interactions between attention and memory, and she is interested in applying memory research to other fields, particularly education.
    • large.jpg
      Brice Kuhl earned his Ph.D. in Psychology from Stanford University and completed postdoctoral work at Yale University. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University. His research explores the neural mechanisms of memory and causes of forgetting.

    Creative Commons License

    Creative CommonsAttributionNon-CommericalShare-AlikeForgetting and Amnesia by Nicole Dudukovic and Brice Kuhl is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available in our Licensing Agreement.

    Factors Influencing Learning

    By , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Modified by Kenneth A. Koenigshofer, PhD., Chaffey College

    Learning is a complex process that defies easy definition and description. This module reviews some of the characteristics of learners and of encoding activities that seem to affect how well people can acquire new memories, knowledge, or skills.

    • Consider what kinds of activities constitute learning.
    • Name multiple forms of learning.
    • List some individual differences that affect learning.
    • Describe the effect of various encoding activities on learning.


    What do you do when studying for an exam? Do you read your class notes and textbook? Do you try to find a quiet place without distraction? Do you use flash cards to test your knowledge? The choices you make reveal your theory of learning, but there is no reason to limit yourself to your own intuitions. There is a vast science of learning, in which researchers from psychology, education, and neuroscience study basic principles of learning and memory.

    A student reads a large textbook with stacks of other textbooks on the table around her.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): When you study for a test, you incorporate your past knowledge into learning this new knowledge. That is, depending on your previous experiences, you will “learn” the material in different ways. [Image: UBC Learning Commons,, CC BY 2.0,]

    In fact, learning is much broader than you might think. Consider: Is listening to music a form of learning? We know that your brain’s response to auditory information changes with your experience with that information, a form of learning called auditory perceptual learning (Polley, Steinberg, & Merzenich, 2006). When we exhibit changes in behavior without having intended to learn something, that is called implicit learning (Seger, 1994), and when we exhibit changes in our behavior that reveal the influence of past experience even though we are not attempting to use that experience, that is called implicit memory (Richardson-Klavehn & Bjork, 1988).

    Other well-studied forms of learning include the types of learning that are general across species. We can’t ask a slug to learn a poem or a lemur to learn to bat left-handed, but we can assess learning in other ways. For example, we can look for a change in our responses to things when we are repeatedly stimulated. If you live in a house with a grandfather clock, you know that what was once an annoying and intrusive sound is now probably barely audible to you. Similarly, poking an earthworm again and again is likely to lead to a reduction in its retraction from your touch. These phenomena are forms of nonassociative learning, in which single repeated exposure leads to a change in behavior (Pinsker, Kupfermann, Castelluci, & Kandel, 1970). When our response lessens with exposure, it is called habituation, and when it increases (like it might with a particularly annoying laugh), it is called sensitization. Animals can also learn about relationships between things, such as when an alley cat learns that the sound of janitors working in a restaurant precedes the dumping of delicious new garbage (an example of stimulus-stimulus learning called classical conditioning), or when a dog learns to roll over to get a treat (a form of stimulus-response learning called operant conditioning). These forms of learning will be covered in the module on Conditioning and Learning (

    Here, we’ll review some of the conditions that affect learning, with a focus on the type of explicit learning we do when trying to learn something.


    One well-studied and important variable is working memory capacity. Working memory describes the form of memory we use to hold onto information temporarily. Working memory is used, for example, to keep track of where we are in the course of a complicated math problem, and what the relevant outcomes of prior steps in that problem are. Higher scores on working memory measures are predictive of better reasoning skills (Kyllonen & Christal, 1990), reading comprehension (Daneman & Carpenter, 1980), and even better control of attention (Kane, Conway, Hambrick, & Engle, 2008).

    A rotary dial telephone.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Research attests that we can hold between 5 and 9 individual pieces of information in our working memory at once. This is partly why in the 1950s Bell Labs developed a 7-digit phone number system. [Image: Diamondmagna,, CC BY-SA 3.0,]

    Anxiety also affects the quality of learning. For example, people with math anxiety have a smaller capacity for remembering math-related information in working memory, such as the results of carrying a digit in arithmetic (Ashcraft & Kirk, 2001). Having students write about their specific anxiety seems to reduce the worry associated with tests and increases performance on math tests (Ramirez & Beilock, 2011).

    Another factor to consider is the role of expertise. Though there probably is a finite capacity on our ability to store information (Landauer, 1986), having more knowledge or expertise actually enhances our ability to learn new information. A classic example is comparing a chess master with a chess novice on their ability to learn and remember the positions of pieces on a chessboard (Chase & Simon, 1973). In that experiment, the master remembered the location of many more pieces than the novice, even after only a very short glance. Maybe chess masters are just smarter than the average chess beginner, and have better memory? No: The advantage the expert exhibited only was apparent when the pieces were arranged in a plausible format for an ongoing chess game; when the pieces were placed randomly, both groups did equally poorly. Expertise allowed the master to chunk (Simon, 1974) multiple pieces into a smaller number of pieces of information—but only when that information was structured in such a way so as to allow the application of that expertise by exploiting memory of familiar chunks (in this case, groups of chess pieces in familiar configurations).

    Encoding Activities

    What we do when we’re learning is very important. We’ve all had the experience of reading something and suddenly coming to the realization that we don’t remember a single thing, even the sentence that we just read. How we go about encoding information determines a lot about how much we remember.

    Merely intending to learn something is not enough. When a learner actively processes the material, encoding and memory are improved; for example, reading words and evaluating their meaning leads to better learning than reading them and evaluating the way that the words look or sound (Craik & Lockhart, 1972). If you are trying to learn a list of words, just evaluating each word for its part of speech (i.e., noun, verb, adjective) helps you recall the words—that is, it helps you remember and write down more of the words later. But it actually impairs your ability to recognize the words—to judge on a later list which words are the ones that you studied (Eagle & Leiter, 1964). So this is a case in which incidental learning—that is, learning without the intention to learn—is better than intentional learning.


    Such examples are not particularly rare and are not limited to recognition. Nairne, Pandeirada, and Thompson (2008) showed, for example, that survival processing—thinking about and rating each word in a list for its relevance in a survival scenario—led to much higher recall than just the intention to learn (and also higher, in fact, than other encoding activities that are also known to lead to high levels of recall). Interacting with the material to be learned, thinking about it and processing it in terms of its meaning for something important like survival, improves recall. To process the material you have to attend to it and you also form connections or associations which may imporve recall.

    If you are studying for a final exam next week and plan to spend a total of five hours, what is the best way to distribute your study? The evidence is clear that spacing one’s repetitions apart in time is superior than massing them all together (Baddeley & Longman, 1978; Bahrick, Bahrick, Bahrick, & Bahrick, 1993; Melton, 1967).

    A similar advantage is evident for the practice of interleaving multiple skills to be learned: For example, baseball batters improved more when they faced a mix of different types of pitches than when they faced the same pitches blocked by type (Hall, Domingues, & Cavazos, 1994). Students also showed better performance on a test when different types of mathematics problems were interleaved rather than grouped during learning (Taylor & Rohrer, 2010).

    One final factor that merits discussion is the role of testing. Educators and students often think about testing as a way of assessing knowledge, and this is indeed an important use of tests. But tests themselves affect memory, because retrieval is one of the most powerful ways of enhancing learning (Roediger & Butler, 2013). Self-testing is an underutilized and potent means of making learning more durable.



    To wrap things up, let’s think back to the questions we began the module with. What might you now do differently when preparing for an exam? Hopefully, you will think about testing yourself frequently, developing an accurate sense of what you do and do not know, how you are likely to use the knowledge, and using the scheduling of study sessions to your advantage. If you are learning a new skill or new material, using the scientific study of learning as a basis for the study and practice decisions you make is a good bet.

    Outside Resources

    Video: The First 20 hours – How to Learn Anything - Watch a video by Josh Kaufman about how we can get really good at almost anything with 20 hours of efficient practice.

    Video: The Learning Scientists - Terrific YouTube Channel with videos covering such important topics as interleaving, spaced repetition, and retrieval practice.
    Video: What we learn before we’re born - In this video, science writer Annie Murphy Paul answers the question “When does learning begin?” She covers through new research that shows how much we learn in the womb — from the lilt of our native language to our soon-to-be-favorite foods.
    Web: Neuroscience News - This is a science website dedicated to neuroscience research, with this page addressing fascinating new memory research.
    Web: The Learning Scientists - A websitecreated by three psychologists who wanted to make scientific research on learning more accessible to students, teachers, and other educators.

    Discussion Questions

    1. How would you best design a computer program to help someone learn a new foreign language? Think about some of the principles of learning outlined in this module and how those principles could be instantiated in “rules” in a computer program.
    2. In what kinds of situations not discussed here might you find a benefit of forgetting on learning?


    The process of grouping information together using our knowledge.
    Classical conditioning
    Describes stimulus-stimulus associative learning.
    The pact of putting information into memory.
    Occurs when the response to a stimulus decreases with exposure.
    Implicit learning
    Occurs when we acquire information without intent that we cannot easily express.
    Implicit memory
    A type of long-term memory that does not require conscious thought to encode. It's the type of memory one makes without intent.
    Incidental learning
    Any type of learning that happens without the intention to learn.
    Intentional learning
    Any type of learning that happens when motivated by intention.
    Describes the knowledge and skills people have in monitoring and controlling their own learning and memory.
    Nonassociative learning
    Occurs when a single repeated exposure leads to a change in behavior.
    Operant conditioning
    Describes stimulus-response associative learning.
    Perceptual learning
    Occurs when aspects of our perception changes as a function of experience.
    Occurs when the response to a stimulus increases with exposure
    Transfer-appropriate processing
    A principle that states that memory performance is superior when a test taps the same cognitive processes as the original encoding activity.
    Working memory
    The form of memory we use to hold onto information temporarily, usually for the purposes of manipulation.


    Ashcraft, M. H., & Kirk, E. P. (2001). The relationships among working memory, math anxiety, and performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130, 224–237.

    Baddeley, A. D., & Longman, D. J. A. (1978). The influence of length and frequency of training session on the rate of learning to type. Ergonomics, 21, 627–635.

    Bahrick, H. P., Bahrick, L. E., Bahrick, A. S., & Bahrick, P. O. (1993). Maintenance of foreign language vocabulary and the spacing effect. Psychological Science, 4, 316–321.

    Bjork, R. A. (2011). On the symbiosis of learning, remembering, and forgetting. In A. S. Benjamin (Ed.), Successful remembering and successful forgetting: A Festschrift in honor of Robert A. Bjork (pp. 1–22). London, UK: Psychology Press.

    Castel, A. D., Benjamin, A. S., Craik, F. I. M., & Watkins, M. J. (2002). The effects of aging on selectivity and control in short-term recall. Memory & Cognition, 30, 1078–1085.

    Chase, W. G., & Simon, H. A. (1973). Perception in chess. Cognitive Psychology, 4, 55–81.

    Craik, F. I. M., & Lockhart, R. S. (1972). Levels of processing: A framework for memory research. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 11, 671–684.

    Daneman, M., & Carpenter, P. A. (1980). Individual differences in working memory and reading. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 19, 450–466.

    Eagle, M., & Leiter, E. (1964). Recall and recognition in intentional and incidental learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 68, 58–63.

    Garavalia, L. S., & Gredler, M. E. (2002). Prior achievement, aptitude, and use of learning strategies as predictors of college student achievement. College Student Journal, 36, 616–626.

    Hall, K. G., Domingues, D. A., & Cavazos, R. (1994). Contextual interference effects with skilled baseball players. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 78, 835–841.

    Heyer, A. W., Jr., & O’Kelly, L. I. (1949). Studies in motivation and retention: II. Retention of nonsense syllables learned under different degrees of motivation. Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 27, 143–152.

    Jenkins, J. J. (1979). Four points to remember: A tetrahedral model of memory experiments. In L. S. Cermak & F. I. M. Craik (Eds.), Levels of processing and human memory (pp. 429–446). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Kane, M. J., Conway, A. R. A., Hambrick, D. Z., & Engle, R. W. (2008). Variation in working memory capacity as variation in executive attention and control. In A. R. A. Conway, C. Jarrold, M. J. Kane, A. Miyake, & J. N. Towse (Eds.), Variation in Working Memory (pp. 22–48). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

    Kimball, D. R., Smith, T. A., & Muntean, W. J. (2012). Does delaying judgments of learning really improve the efficacy of study decisions? Not so much. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 38, 923–954.

    Kornell, N., & Metcalfe, J. (2006). Study efficacy and the region of proximal learning framework. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 32, 609–622.

    Kyllonen, P. C., & Christal, R. E. (1990). Reasoning ability is (little more than) working memory capacity. Intelligence, 14, 389–433.

    Landauer, T. K. (1986). How much do people remember? Some estimates of the quantity of learned information in long-term memory. Cognitive Science, 10, 477–493.

    Landauer, T. K., & Bjork, R. A. (1978). Optimum rehearsal patterns and name learning. In M. M. Gruneberg, P. E. Morris, & R. N. Sykes (Eds.), Practical aspects of memory (pp. 625–632). London: Academic Press.

    Melton, A. W. (1967). Repetition and retrieval from memory. Science, 158, 532.

    Morris, C. D., Bransford, J. D., & Franks, J. J. (1977). Levels of processing versus transfer appropriate processing. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 16, 519–533.

    Mullin, P. A., Herrmann, D. J., & Searleman, A. (1993). Forgotten variables in memory theory and research. Memory, 1, 43–64.

    Nairne, J. S., Pandeirada, J. N. S., & Thompson, S. R. (2008). Adaptive memory: the comparative value of survival processing. Psychological Science, 19, 176–180.

    Pinsker, H., Kupfermann, I., Castelluci, V., & Kandel, E. (1970). Habituation and dishabituation of the gill-withdrawal reflex in Aplysia. Science, 167, 1740–1742.

    Pintrich, P. R. (2003). A motivational science perspective on the role of student motivation in learning and teaching contexts. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 667–686.

    Polley, D. B., Steinberg, E. E., & Merzenich, M. M. (2006). Perceptual learning directs auditory cortical map reorganization through top-down influences. The Journal of Neuroscience, 26, 4970–4982.

    Ramirez, G., & Beilock, S. L. (2011). Writing about testing worries boosts exam performance in the classroom. Science, 331, 211–213.

    Richardson-Klavehn, A. & Bjork, R.A. (1988). Measures of memory. Annual Review of Psychology, 39, 475–543.

    Roediger, H. L., & Butler, A.C. (2013). Retrieval practice (testing) effect. In H. L. Pashler (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the mind. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publishing Co.

    Seger, C. A. (1994). Implicit learning. Psychological Bulletin, 115, 163–196.

    Simon, H. A. (1974). How big is a chunk? Science, 4124, 482–488.

    Taylor, K., & Rohrer, D. (2010). The effects of interleaved practice. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 837–848.

    Tullis, J. G., & Benjamin, A. S. (2012). Consequences of restudy choices in younger and older learners. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 19, 743–749.

    Tullis, J. G., & Benjamin, A. S. (2011). On the effectiveness of self-paced learning. Journal of Memory and Language, 64, 109–118.


    Adapted by Kenneth A. Koenigshofer, PhD, from Benjamin, A. (2021). Factors influencing learning. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers. Retrieved from


    • large.jpg
      Aaron Benjamin is Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is President of the International Association for Metacognition and a member of the Governing Board of the Psychonomic Society, and has been an Associate Editor of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. He conducts research on memory, metamemory, and decision-making.

    Creative Commons License

    Creative CommonsAttributionNon-CommericalShare-AlikeFactors Influencing Learning by Aaron Benjamin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available in our Licensing Agreement