Forgetting is a Feature, not a Bug: Intentionally Forgetting Some Things Helps Us Remember Others by Freeing up Working Memory Resources

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Description: We used an item-method directed forgetting paradigm to test whether instructions to forget or to remember one item in a list affects memory for the subsequent item in that list. In two experiments, we found that free and cued recall were higher when a word-pair was preceded during study by a to-be-forgotten (TBF) word pair. This effect was cumulative – performance was higher when more of the preceding items during study were TBF. It also interacted with lag between study items – the effect decreased as the lag between the current and a prior item increased. Experiment 2 used a dual-task paradigm in which we suppressed either verbal rehearsal or attentional refreshing during encoding. We found that neither task removed the effect, thus the advantage from previous TBF items could not be due to rehearsal or attentional borrowing. We propose that storing items in long-term memory depletes a limited pool of resources that recovers over time, and that TBF items deplete fewer resources, leaving more available for storing subsequent items. A computational model implementing the theory provided excellent fits to the data.

License: CC-By Attribution 4.0 International

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