Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Less We Forget: Retrieval Cues and Release from Retrieval-Induced Forgetting

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Less We Forget: Retrieval Cues and Release from Retrieval-Induced Forgetting

Article excerpt

Published online: 26 June 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract Retrieving some items from memory can impair the subsequent recall of other related but not retrieved items, a phenomenon called retrieval-induced forgetting (RIF). The dominant explanation of RIF- the inhibition account-asserts that forgetting occurs because related items are suppressed during retrieval practice to reduce retrieval competition. This item inhibition persists, making it more difficult to recall the related items on a later test. In our set of experiments, each category was designed such that each exemplar belonged to one of two subcategories (e.g., each BIRD exemplar was either a bird of prey or a pet bird), but this subcategory information was not made explicit during study or retrieval practice. Practicing retrieval of items from only one subcategory led to RIF for items from the other subcategory when cued only with the overall category label (BIRD) at test. However, adapting the technique of Gardiner, Craik, and Birtwistle (Journal of Learning and Verbal Behavior 11:778-783, 1972), providing subcategory cues during the final test eliminated RIF. The results challenge the inhibition account's fundamental assumption of cue independence but are consistent with a cue-based interference account.

Keywords Memory . Recall . Interference/inhibition in memory retrieval

Less we forget: Retrieval cues and release from retrieval-induced forgetting

When we remember, does the output directly reflect the internal representation? Research suggests that it does not, demonstrating that the process of retrieval can shape the product of retrieval (e.g., reproducing visual forms, Hanawalt & Demarest, 1939; release from proactive interference, Gardiner, Craik, & Birtwistle, 1972; context reinstatement in directed forgetting, Sahakyan & Kelley, 2002). In fact, slight changes to the retrieval context can produce dramatically different outcomes, even providing access to memories that would otherwise seem forgotten. As a consequence, addressing the state of a memory itself is challenging, because the retrieval context during test influences the output.

To demonstrate the complexity of the relation between the information in memory and the retrieval outcome, consider the classic study by Carmichael, Hogan, and Walter (1932). Their participants studied ambiguous shapes, each paired with one of two labels (e.g., two circles connected by a line were labeled either "eye-glasses" or "dumbbells"). Participants' later reproductions of the forms were biased by the studied label, such that the label "eye-glasses" resulted in a form that looked more like glasses, whereas the label "dumbbells" resulted in a form that looked more like free weights. On the basis of this study, one could conclude-as Carmichael et al. did-that the label given during study shaped the encoded memory representation of the ambiguous form. However, a less well-known article by Hanawalt and Demarest (1939) challenged this interpretation. They provided the labels during test, rather than encoding, and demonstrated precisely the same results. Thus, participants' reproductions of the forms were altered by the test cues and, therefore, were not a pure reflection of the internal memory representation. In this case, a premature conclusion about the state of the memory representation was made before the retrieval process was fully considered.

Might this same interpretational problem occur in other well-known paradigms within the realm of memory? Our argument is that it does. Specifically, we argue that it applies to the retrieval-induced forgetting (RIF) paradigm. RIF is somewhat of a paradoxical finding: Retrieving a subset of items can result in a cost to related but nonretrieved items on a subsequent memory test (Anderson, Bjork, & Bjork, 1994). For example, retrieving the item peach from memory might impair later recall of other fruit items, like banana. …

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