Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Inhibition and Interference in the Think/no-Think Task

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Inhibition and Interference in the Think/no-Think Task

Article excerpt

Abstract Five experiments using the think/no-think (TNT) procedure investigated the effect of the no-think and substitute instructions on cued recall. In Experiment 1, when unrelated A-B paired associates were studied and cued for recall with A items, recall rates were reliably enhanced in the think condition and reliably impaired below baseline in the no-think condition. In Experiments 2 and 5, final recall was cued with B items, leading to reliably higher recall rates, as compared with baseline, in both the think and no-think conditions. This pattern indicates backward priming of no-think items. In Experiments 3 and 4, the no-think instruction was replaced with a thought substitution instruction, and participants were asked to think of another word instead of the studied one when they saw the no-think cued items. As in Experiments 1 and 2, the same amount of forgetting of B items was observed when A items were the cues, but in contrast to Experiment 2, there was no increase in the recall performance of A items when B items were the cues. These results suggest that not thinking of studied items or, alternatively, thinking of a substitute item to avoid a target item may involve different processes: the former featuring inhibition and the latter interference.

Keywords Inhibition . Episodic . Memory content . Backward facilitation . Priming . Executive control . Interference/inhibition in memory retrieval . Memory . Recall

Remembering is driven, channeled, or controlled by cues that feature in the retrieval process. This has been extensively explored in, arguably, one of its simplest forms, the cued recall of paired associates. A person who learns a list of unrelated A-B terms, such as bread-hat, when cued with the A term, bread is often able to recall the B term with which it was originally paired-that is, hat in this example (for reviews, see Baddeley, 1976; Crowder, 1976; Murdock, 1974; for a contemporary overview, see Kahana, Howard, & Polyn, 2008). Indeed, the principle that retrieval is based on specific cue-target associations-the cue being an item in the retrieval environment and the target a soughtfor item in long-term memory-is so fundamental that it is virtually axiomatic to our understanding of retrieval processes (Thomson & Tulving, 1970; Tulving & Osler, 1968). Some recent and intriguing experiments have, however, demonstrated that cues might also be used to avoid, rather than access, items in memory with which they are associated (Anderson & Green, 2001; Anderson et al., 2004; Depue, Banich, & Curran, 2006; Depue, Curran, & Banich, 2007; Hanslmayr, Leipold, & Bauml, 2010).

In the think/no-think (TNT) procedure introduced by Anderson and Green (2001), a list of paired associates were first learned to a criterion such that participants could readily recall B terms when presented with A terms. Following acquisition, there then followed a practice phase in which an A term was presented and either its corresponding B term was thought about (the think condition) or participants were cued not to think about the previously paired B term (the no- think condition). These TNT trials were repeated a number of times so that thinking and not thinking about associated B terms were practiced. There was also a subset of baseline control items that were neither thought about nor not thought about. The important finding in the subsequent cued recall test, in which A terms acted as cues to B terms, was that recall of B terms that had been thought about was high, recall of baseline items was intermediate, and recall of nothink items was reliably lower than baseline, suggesting inhibition of these items and showing how cues might be shaped to either promote remembering or hinder it.

These controversial results prompted a lively debate about the reliability and the possible explanations of TNT. Anderson and colleagues demonstrated a reliable amount of forgetting in the TNT procedure (see Anderson & Green, 2001; Anderson et al. …

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