Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

List-Method Directed Forgetting Can Be Selective: Evidence from the 3-List and the 2-List Tasks

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

List-Method Directed Forgetting Can Be Selective: Evidence from the 3-List and the 2-List Tasks

Article excerpt

Abstract When people are cued to forget previously studied irrelevant information and study new information instead, such cuing typically leads to forgetting of the precue information. But what do people forget if, before the forget cue is provided, both irrelevant and relevant information have been encoded? Using relatively short item lists, we examined in a series of three experiments whether participants are able to selectively forget the irrelevant precue information, when relevant and irrelevant precue items were presented subsequently in two separate lists (3-list task) and when the two types of items were presented alternatingly within a single list (2-list task). Selective forgetting of the irrelevant precue items arose in the 3-list task, independent of modality of item presentation and level of discriminability of the precue lists, and it arose in the 2-list task. The findings suggest that, at least with relatively short precue lists, participants may well be able to selectively forget irrelevant precue information when cued to do so. Implications of the results for theoretical accounts of list-method directed forgetting are discussed.

Keywords Episodic memory . Forgetting . Directed forgetting . Selectivity

List-method directed forgetting (LMDF) is the demonstration that people can intentionally forget previously encoded information when cued to do so. In this paradigm, participants typically study two lists of items and, after study of list 1, receive a cue either to forget or to continue remembering this list. The forget cue indicates that all of the precue information is irrelevant for an upcoming test and thus should be forgotten, whereas the remember cue indicates that all of the precue information is relevant and thus should be remembered. After study of list 2, which is always to be remembered, participants are asked to recall the two lists' items irrespective of original cuing. The typical finding is that, as compared with remember-cued participants, forgetcued participants recall fewer list 1 items and more list 2 items, referred to as forgetting of the precue information and enhancement of the postcue information (for reviews, see Bäuml, Pastötter, & Hanslmayr, 2010; MacLeod, 1998).1

LMDF has mostly been attributed to a single mechanism, regarded as responsible for both the forgetting of the precue information and the enhancement of the postcue information. The selective-rehearsal account, for instance, assumes that during postcue encoding, remember-cued participants rehearse both precue and postcue items, whereas forget-cued participants selectively rehearse postcue items, thus improving later recall of postcue items at the expense of the precue items (Bjork, 1970). The retrieval-inhibition account assumes that forget-cued participants engage in active inhibitory processes that impair access to the precue list, thus reducing recall of the precue items and, due to the resulting decrease in the precue items' interference potential, improving recall of the postcue items (Geiselman, Bjork, & Fishman, 1983). Finally, the context-change account claims that the forget cue induces an internal context change that, at test, impairs recall of the precue items due to a mismatch between the context at encoding and the context at retrieval and, due to the reduced interference from the precue items, improves recall of the postcue items (Sahakyan & Kelley, 2002). As an alternative to one- mechanism accounts of LMDF, two-mechanism accounts also have recently been suggested, assuming that the forgetting of the precue items is caused by inhibition or context change, whereas the enhancement of the postcue items (partly) reflects improved encoding (Pastötter, Kliegl, & Bäuml, 2012; Sahakyan & Delaney, 2003).

Is LMDF selective?

Recent work on LMDF has shown that cuing participants to forget a previously studied item list leads to forgetting of all the items on this list, impairing recall of the single items about equally (Pastötter & Bäuml, 2010a; Pastötter et al. …

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