Inhibitory processes and the control of memory retrieval

Trends Cogn Sci. 2002 Jul 1;6(7):299-305. doi: 10.1016/s1364-6613(02)01923-x.


People are often confronted with reminders of things they would prefer not to think about. When this happens, they often attempt to put the unwanted memories out of awareness. Recent research shows that the capacity to suppress distracting traces is mediated by executive-control processes that are analogous to those involved in overriding prepotent motor responses, and it is these processes that cause persisting memory failures for the suppressed items. There is evidence that memory retrieval and motor tasks that are likely to demand executive control recruit overlapping neural mechanisms, suggesting that a common process mediates control in these domains. Together, these findings indicate that memory failures often arise from the mechanisms that lie at the heart of our capacity to influence the focus of thought.