Semantic generation can cause episodic forgetting

Psychol Sci. 2002 Jul;13(4):356-60. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.00464.


The repeated retrieval of a subset of previously learned items can cause forgetting of the nonretrieved items. The study reported here investigated whether retrieval-induced forgetting generalizes to a situation in which the retrieved and nonretrieved items are not part of the same experiential episode and task. Subjects learned an item list that they had to recall later in the experiment. In a separate intermediate phase, they repeatedly generated related items from semantic memory, or were presented the same items intact for study. Only the semantic generation of items, and not their presentation for study, induced forgetting of the initially learned items. This result indicates that, first, semantic generation can cause recall-specific episodic forgetting and, second, retrieval-induced forgetting can occur even if the retrieved and nonretrieved items belong to different experiential episodes and tasks. Connections of the present results to other memory phenomena, such as part-set cuing and the generation effect, social cognition, and eyewitness memory, are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Memory Disorders*
  • Random Allocation
  • Semantics*