Directed Forgetting and Working Memory

Principle Investigators:  Sara Festini and Tiffany Jantz

Although an accurate memory has its obvious benefits, the ability to forget information plays an important, though less conspicuous, role in our daily lives. In addition to the commonly held notion of forgetting as an incidental, unwanted loss of information; cognitive psychologists have also investigated the possibility of voluntary, intentional forgetting which presumably requires strategic control over the contents of one’s memory. Voluntary forgetting could serve as a means to remove information from memory that has since become irrelevant, that interferes with other information, or that even causes emotional distress.

This research investigates how people voluntarily control the contents of working memory with “directed forgetting” instructions. In computerized experiments, we present participants with lists of words to study, and after this encoding phase, we instruct them to forget a subset of these items (see below). These experiments test how efficiently people are able to perform directed forgetting within working memory (i.e., by assessing false memories, semantic interference, proactive interference, and long-term memorability of to-be-forgotten versus to-be-remembered items) and also test the underlying mechanisms of this cognitive control process.

Additionally, how does age affect the ability to control the contents of one’s memory? Currently, we are conducting two experiments to examine the effects of healthy aging on memory control.  Specifically, we are using a directed forgetting paradigm developed by Festini & Reuter-Lorenz (2013) to investigate age-related differences in the ability to intentionally forget irrelevant information held in working memory.  Employing this paradigm, these experiments examine the effects of directed forgetting in working memory on false memory and proactive interference attenuation in both working and long-term memory.

Additional Readings:

  1. Festini, S. B., & Reuter-Lorenz, P. A. (2013). The short-and long-term consequences of directed forgetting in a working memory task. Memory, 21(7), 763-777.
  2. Festini, S. B., & Reuter-Lorenz, P. A. (2014). Cognitive control of familiarity: Directed forgetting reduces proactive interference in working memory. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 14(1), 78-89.
  3. Titz, C., & Verhaeghen, P. (2010). Aging and directed forgetting in episodic memory: A meta-analysis. Psychology and aging, 25(2), 405.
  4. Zacks, R. T., Radvansky, G., & Hasher, L. (1996). Studies of directed forgetting in older adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 22(1), 143.