Retrieval Cue Failure refers to the inability to recall a memory despite it being stored in long-term memory. This forgetting occurs when there is a lack of retrieval cues or prompts that can activate the memory, making it temporarily inaccessible.


When we encode and store information in our long-term memory, we create associations or connections between different elements of the memory. These associations serve as retrieval cues that can help us locate and retrieve the memory when needed. However, if the retrieval cues are absent or insufficient, it becomes challenging to retrieve the memory.


There are several factors that can contribute to retrieval cue failure:

  • Weak Encoding: If the initial encoding of the memory was weak or shallow, there may not be strong associations or cues formed to aid in retrieval.
  • Interference: Other memories or information that are similar to the target memory can interfere and block the retrieval cues, making it harder to recall the desired memory.
  • Contextual Changes: When the retrieval context (environment, mood, or state) during recall differs from the encoding context, it can lead to retrieval cue failure.


Retrieval cue failure can be observed in various situations:

  • Trouble Remembering Names: You may experience difficulty recalling the name of a person you just met, even though you know the face and context in which you met them.
  • Forgotten Passwords: When you struggle to remember a password for an account that you rarely use, the absence of retrieval cues can hinder successful recall.

Overcoming Retrieval Cue Failure:

There are a few strategies that can be used to overcome retrieval cue failure:

  • Reinstating Context: Attempting to recreate the environment or mental state in which the memory was encoded can provide additional retrieval cues to aid in recall.
  • Cued Recall: Providing a related cue or prompt that is associated with the memory can increase the likelihood of successful retrieval.
  • Relearning: Going through the process of relearning the information can strengthen the memory and create new retrieval cues.