Effects of Memory Instruction on Attention and Information Processing: Further Investigation of Inhibition of Return in Item-Method Directed Forgetting

By Thompson, Kate M.; Hamm, Jeff P. et al. | Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, February 2014 | Go to article overview

Effects of Memory Instruction on Attention and Information Processing: Further Investigation of Inhibition of Return in Item-Method Directed Forgetting


Thompson, Kate M., Hamm, Jeff P., Taylor, Tracy L., Attention, Perception and Psychophysics


Published online: 27 November 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract In the item-method directed-forgetting paradigm, the magnitude of inhibition of return (IOR) is larger after an instruction to forget (F) than after an instruction to remember (R). In the present experiments, we further investigated this increased magnitude of IOR after F as compared to R memory instructions (dubbed the F > R IOR difference), in order to understand both the consequences for information processing and the purpose of the differential withdrawal of attention that results in this difference. Words were presented in one of four peripheral locations, followed by either an F or an R memory instruction. Then, a target appeared in either the same location as the previous word or one of the other locations. The results showed that the F > R IOR difference cannot be explained by attentional momentum (Exp. 1), that the spatial compatibility of the response options with target locations is not necessary for the F > R IOR difference to emerge (Exp. 2), and that the F > R IOR difference is location-specific rather than response-specific (Exp. 3). These results are consistent with the view that F > R IOR represents a bias against responding to information emanating from an unreliable source (Taylor & Fawcett, 2011).

Keywords Attention · Memory · Inhibition of return

Understanding how we are able to intentionally forget irrelevant information is critical to understanding how human memory works. Intentional forgetting is studied in the laboratory using a directed-forgetting paradigm. There are variations of this paradigm, and the present experiments focus on the item method (for reviews, see Basden & Basden, 1998; MacLeod, 1998). In this method, participants are presented at study with a list of items (usually words; although see, e.g., Quinlan, Taylor & Fawcett, 2010) one at a time. Each item is followed with equal probability by an instruction to forget (F) or to remember (R). Once all items have been presented, participants are tested for their memory of both F-instructed items (F items) and R-instructed items (R items). In both recognition and recall tests of explicit memory, participants typically remember more R than F items, a pattern referred to as a directed-forgetting effect. Importantly, this effect does not appear to be due to demand characteristics (MacLeod, 1999).

Historically, forgetting has been viewed as the passive decay of information from memory (Bjork & Geiselman, 1978; Ebbinghaus, 1885). Thus, in the case of intentional forgetting, the directed-forgetting effect was thought to be due solely to preferential elaborate encoding of R items. However, recent studies have shown that in the item-method paradigm, an active process is also associated with instantiating an instruction to forget. Behavioral evidence that responding is slowed after F as compared to R instructions (e.g., Fawcett & Taylor, 2008) suggests that forgetting is more cognitively demanding than remembering. In addition, a plethora of neurophysiological data suggest that an active mechanism is associated with forgetting (Cheng, Liu, Lee, Hung & Tzeng, 2012; Hauswald, Schulz, Iordanov & Kissler, 2011; Ludowig, Möller, Bien, Münte, Elger & Rosburg, 2010; Paz-Caballero & Menor, 1999; Paz- Caballero, Menor & Jiménez, 2004; Ullsperger, Mecklinger & Müller, 2000; van Hooff& Ford, 2011; Van Hooff, Whitaker & Ford, 2009; Wylie, Foxe & Taylor, 2008).

To better understand the active processes involved in intentional forgetting, Taylor (2005) investigated the withdrawal of attention after F and R memory instructions. To do this, she combined an item-method directed-forgetting paradigm with a cueing paradigm designed to test for inhibition of return (IOR; Posner & Cohen, 1984). IOR manifests as slowed reaction times (RTs) to targets that appear in the same location as a previous peripheral onset cue, relative to targets that appear in a different location (Posner & Cohen, 1984). …

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