Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Directed Forgetting: Comparing Pictures and Words

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Directed Forgetting: Comparing Pictures and Words

Article excerpt

The authors investigated directed forgetting as a function of the stimulus type (picture, word) presented at study and test. In an item-method directed forgetting task, study items were presented 1 at a time, each followed with equal probability by an instruction to remember or forget. Participants exhibited greater yes-no recognition of remember than forget items for each of the 4 study-test conditions (picture-picture, picture-word, word-word, word-picture). However, this difference was significantly smaller when pictures were studied than when words were studied. This finding demonstrates that the magnitude of the directed forgetting effect can be reduced by high item memorability, such as when the picture superiority effect is operating. This suggests caution in using pictures at study when the goal of an experiment is to examine potential group differences in the magnitude of the directed forgetting effect.

Keywords: item-method directed forgetting, intentional forgetting, picture superiority, pictures, words

Generally, forgetting is viewed negatively. However, sometimes when information is no longer relevant, it is beneficial to forget so that memory does not become overloaded with irrelevant and potentially interfering information (Bjork. 1970). For example, to remember a friend's new phone number, it helps if we can forget the old one. Intentional forgetting is studied in the laboratory using a paradigm known as directed forgetting (Bjork, 1972).

Although there are many variants of the directed forgetting paradigm, most may be classified as using either the list method or the item method (see MacLeod, 1998, for a review); the present study was concerned exclusively with the item-method paradigm. In an item-method task, participants are presented with a series of items, one at a time, each followed with equal probability by an instruction to remember or forget that item. A directed forgetting effect is defined as better subsequent memory for remember than for forget items, and occurs for both recall and recognition when the item method is used (see Basden & Basden, 1998, for a review).

Item-method directed forgetting has generally been examined using words as the stimuli at both study and test (e.g., Bjork, 1970; Muther, 1965; MacLeod, 1975, 1989; Woodward & Bjork, 1971). However, pictures have been used at study, particularly when participants are unable to easily process words - for example, in studies using young children (e.g., Lehman, McKinley-Pace. Leonard, Thompson, & Johns, 2001), animals (e.g., Roberts. Mazmanian, & Kraemer, 1984), or certain clinical populations (e.g., mental retardation: Bray, Justice, & Simon, 1978). At test, participants have then been required to recall the verbal referents of the studied pictures or to recognise the studied pictures when presented again.

We are aware of three studies that have examined directed forgetting of pictures in nonclinical adult populations. The first of these presented pictures that were all drawn from a single taxonomic category (e.g., animals; Basden & Basden, 1996). As Houlihan (2008) noted, this introduces the possibility that relatively poorer recall and recognition of the forget items was due to retrieval-induced forgetting (Anderson. 2003) rather than to directed forgetting. Hauswald and Kissler (2008) extended the work of Basden and Basden ( 1996) using complex visual scenes (instead of taxonomically related line drawings). Although a directed forgetting effect was observed, they suggested that it was smaller in magnitude than previously reported in studies using words; however, no direct comparison between directed forgetting of pictures and words could be performed given that the complex scenes did not map onto a single-word referent.

In the most recent study. Hourihan (2008) presented noncategorized pictures of common objects both at study and at recognition. In one condition, these pictures were mixed with the presentation of words in both phases of the experiment; in another condition, only pictures were presented. …

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