Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Failures to Find Suppression of Episodic Memories in the Think/no-Think Paradigm

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Failures to Find Suppression of Episodic Memories in the Think/no-Think Paradigm

Article excerpt

Andersen and Green (2001) had subjects learn paired associates and then selectively suppress responses to some of them. They reported a decrease in final cued recall for responses that subjects had been instructed not to think of and explained their data as resulting from cognitive suppression, a laboratory analog of repression. We report three experiments designed to replicate the suppression/repression results. After subjects learned a series of A-B word pairs (e.g., ordeal-roach), they were then asked to respond to some items and not to think of other items when shown their cues 1,8, or 16 times. During a final recall test, they were cued with either a same (direct) probe (ordeal-_____) or an independent (indirect) probe (insect-r_____). None of our experiments snowed reliable suppression effects with either the same or independent-probe tests. Suppression is apparently not a robust experimental phenomenon in the think/no-think paradigm.

Experimental psychologists have been interested in the suppression of memories almost since the birth of the field, spurred by Freud's theorizing (Freud, 1895/1957). The idea that unpleasant memories could be purged from consciousness has always been a tempting concept, both for its implications for clinical phenomena and as a target for research among experimentalists, starting with Rosenzweig and Mason ( 1934). The concept of repression has remained a popular psychological concept, despite very little experimental support for its existence (e.g., Holmes, 1990).

One possible problem with experimentation in repression is the lack of agreement on the definition of the concept (see Erdelyi, 1990, for a review). For example, it is unclear whether repression is the result of conscious or unconscious processes, as in Freud's original conceptualization. Following Anderson and Green (2001), in the present research we conceptualized repression as an active process-a strategy that people may use to forget-and we used the term suppression synonymously.

Laboratory analogs have been designed over the years to seek evidence that would support or discredit the theory of repression as either a conscious or an unconscious process (e.g., Glucksberg & King, 1967). Investigators attempted to develop experimental paradigms to directly address repression, which was mostly supported heretofore by anecdotal cases described by clinicians. The first attempt at investigating repression experimentally examined people's ability to recall puzzles that had been solved versus those that had not (Rosenzweig & Mason, 1934). The experimenters manipulated whether or not the subject finished the puzzle and found poorer recall for the unsolved puzzles than for the solved ones. Rosenzweig and Mason argued that not solving a puzzle would be a comparatively unpleasant memory and therefore would be less likely to be remembered, a result they did in fact obtain. The authors concluded that these findings supported Freud's concept of repression. Other researchers, however, reported the opposite pattern-that incomplete tasks are better recalled than are complete tasks. Zeigarnik (1927) is the first of these, and the Zeigarnik effect was named for her study. Patalano and Seifert (1994) have shown the same pattern more recently.

In the 1960s, the directed forgetting paradigm (Bjork, LaBerge, & Legrand, 1968; Weiner, 1968; see Basden & Basden, 1998, and MacLeod, 1998, for reviews) emerged as a method that could be used to study cognitive suppression. The general paradigm consisted of subjects learning a list of items with instructions telling them that they should actively forget some items and remember others or to forget one list of items and remember the next list. Subjects typically showed poorer retention for the forget items and less proactive interference for the items learned after the forget instruction, at least on recall tests (but only sometimes on recognition tests). Many researchers examined factors at work in this paradigm and the two primary ones implicated were rehearsal (to-be-forgotten items were rehearsed less often than to-be-remembered items) and segregation or grouping of the two types of items (forgotten and remembered items). …

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