26 Pages

Active Forgetting: Evidence for Functional Inhibition as a Source of Memory Failure

WithMichael C. Anderson

This chapter reviews the role of inhibitory processes in episodic forgetting. It presents some preliminary ideas on how the memory inhibition processes may contribute to some instances of traumatic amnesia. The chapter examines a program of research in theoretical memory that shows that people use inhibitory control processes to "push aside" interfering representations in memory. A program of research in theoretical memory is reviewed that shows how many instances of ordinary forgetting arise from active inhibitory processes that serve a very important attentional function: Selective retrieval. Studying the side effects of retrieval on other things in memory allows us to make inferences about the basic mechanisms underlying the retrieval process. In laboratory studies, inhibition causes the interfering information to be forgotten. Forgetting is often assumed to be a passive process. Rctricval-induccd forgetting would seem to provide very strong support for the idea that recalling information from long-term memory involves the suppression of competing representations.