Why do we frequently forget things we’ve already told people?

Recently, our class has been focusing on memory. One of the things that I frequently struggle with is forgetting that I’ve already told someone something. My friends always get on me for it. I did some digging into researching this phenomenon and found that that the ability to remember where a piece of information has been addressed is known as destination memory. Since I’m not (at least what I think) of relatively old age, it concerns me that this happens to me so frequently.

A research article I found that was relevant to this and stuck out to me was Destination memory and cognitive theory of mind in normal aging. The researchers in the article sought out to find if destination memory deteriorates as we age. Forty younger adults (Mage = 23.13 years, SD = 4.00) and thirty-six older adults (Mage = 69.53 years, SD = 8.93) were asked to perform a destination memory task. During the task, participants were shown 24 proverbs (ex; “better late than never”) with a picture of a celebrity below each one. Participants told each celebrity the proverb, then a white fixation cross was shown on the screen for one second before the next celebrity and proverb was shown. Participants then read aloud three-digit spans for one minute. The participants were finally asked to, in a random order, recognize whether or not they had previously told a certain proverb to a specific celebrity. They did this by pressing a green key for “yes” and a red key for “no.” The destination memory scores were based on the number of correct “yes” responses minus the number of incorrect “yes” responses. There was a significant difference between younger adults and older adults, with younger adults scoring an average of 86% correct “yes” responses and adults scoring an average of 66% correct “yes” responses. Therefore, the study’s hypothesis that older participants showed deterioration in destination memory was supported.

What does this mean for us? Well, forgetting that you’ve already told someone something only gets worse over time. I’d be interested in seeing if there are other factors related to destination memory deterioration, especially since I feel like my destination memory is so poor. I’d also be interested in learning the factors that go into why our destination memory ability is highly dependent on facial recognition. 

Study link: http://web.a.ebscohost.com.umw.idm.oclc.org/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=5969d980-6496-452e-bce1-bbbd70c777bc%40sessionmgr4008&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=113739793&db=pbh

Comic link: https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/forgetfulness

13 thoughts on “Why do we frequently forget things we’ve already told people?

  1. cgiunta

    It’s ironic you posted a blog on such a topic because I experienced this just the other day. I think of it as a glitch in the memory system. It is definitely easy to see that as people get older, their memory begins to deteriorate, which sadly, can become frustrating for older people because they are becoming less independent. I think us as humans are able to sympathize with those that are losing their independence.

  2. mhook

    This happens to me, both on the giving and receiving end. Usually when I am about to tell someone something I have already told them I catch myself a few sentences in. This might be because I am remembering telling the person already through episodic memory. My parents definitely repeat stories to me, but it is usually because they cannot remember if they have told me or my sister the same story. I usually don’t call out someone for telling me something they already told me, since most of the time it is just simple forgetting.

  3. krb8

    This happens to me all of the time too, I feel so bad for my friends and family sometimes because I’m always repeating myself. It’s interesting to see that younger people are supposed to be better with this kind of memory but, I feel like my memory is way worse than my dad’s or my grandpa’s even. I would love to know why this happens also because it doesn’t make much sense obviously if we’re looking at the findings.

  4. sspitzer

    I too often have an error in my destination memory. I often struggle to remember if I am telling someone something for the first time or they have already heard me say it before. However, I am pretty good at reading the individual and am able to quickly realize if they have heard me tell it before or not by their facial expression(s). If I can tell that I have said it before I normally quickly stop what I am saying and say, “Sorry, I think I have told you that before.” Destination memory is quite interesting, however its rather scary to face the fact that our memory only gets worse as we age. Thanks for sharing this interesting form of memory with me!

  5. chayes

    I do this now so it scary to think that it only get worse with age. This is a common thing that i think everyone encounters. I wonder if there might be another factor or explanation that could do will why it happens to people in their earlier stages?

  6. lily

    This seems to be a problem for many people, there are often times that I struggle to remember something whether it happened recently or a while back. This was an interesting post to read because I didn’t know that they tested our memory with that specific sort of task. I am worried that as I get older, my memory will continue to get worse and worse. Hopefully I will get lucky and my memory will stay as it is now, but I am not going to count on it. Thanks for writing this!

  7. mocooper

    This is the most relatable thing I have ever read. While I’m totally guilty of this too, my roommate is so much worse. She will tell me something and then a few hours later tell me either the exact same thing or something very similar. I’ve always wondered why that was but always just wrote it off as sleep deprivation as a college student. This was a cool read, great job!

  8. thares

    I find myself having this problem as well and it happens to my mom ALL of the time. In some cases when I am telling someone something, right as I begin to tell the story I find myself realizing that I have already told them without them telling me first. I don’t like knowing that this is just going to get worse over time, but oh well. Destination memory is definitely very interesting and I would love to learn more about it.

  9. abalgoyen

    This post reminds me of one of my roommates because this happens to her all the time. She always says “Im so sorry I always tell my stories over and over again” She catches herself doing that once she has started the story and we give her a funny look like we’ve heard this before. It is interesting to see that with age this gets worse and that since we are only around twenty years old and it is so prevalant even now.

  10. rachelremer

    This happens to me all the time too. I remember telling someone something but I don’t remember exactly who I told and if I I told them everything or just part of a story. I feel like I can definitely see how it gets worse when we get older because I can see it in my dad and it is even worse with my grandpa and grandma. I am just afraid that it will be really bad when we get older because we are already forgetting who we have told.

  11. afinegan

    I really tend to struggle with this when I am having a conversation specifically on social media when I can’t see what I last sent. I usually credited this to me having my attention on several things at the time I was sending the text or was not really focusing on what I was doing. I had never heard of destination memory but it is a very interesting concept. It does make me nervous to know that if this memory is not very good now, how bad will it get when I am older. I wonder if there are certain exercises or tasks you can do to improve this kind of memory or if there are certain things you should focus on day to day to activate destination memory.

  12. alee9

    This post is particularly interesting to me because, even though I only interact with a handful of close friends on any sort of regular basis, I still find myself telling my roommate (for example) the same story multiple times. One imagines that there might be an important contextual aspect that would be overlooked with the experiment you mentioned, since neither the proverb nor the celebrity have any special relation to you and there is minimal significance to the act itself. It seems to me more like the pairing of stimuli, whereas the conscious decision to tell someone something comes up with other items of relevance both before and after in the conversation that help to sort it into place. That said, I still find myself feeling repetitive only part way through conversations, so this context-based reminder can only go so far.

  13. mbeidleman

    This happens to my mom all the time. She will tell me or my siblings to do something and then tell us again and again. She also will forget that she already told me a story and then begin to tell it again until I have to stop her and remind her that she already told me. I didn’t realize that there was actually a name for this phenomenon. It would be interesting to find out if the cause of giving someone instructions and then forgetting and telling others what to do again is because of stress and having a lot going on and forgetting what you have already done and haven’t done or because of a lack of destination memory. This kind of thing happens to my friends’ moms as well which makes me think that a lot of moms just always seem to have a lot going on and want to make sure that their kids are going to actually do what they told them to do. The fact that one’s destination memory gets worse overtime is a scary thought considering it’s already so bad already for many individuals including myself.

Comments are closed.