Forgetting is effortful: evidence from reaction time probes in an item-method directed forgetting task

Mem Cognit. 2008 Sep;36(6):1168-81. doi: 10.3758/MC.36.6.1168.


Reaction time (RT) was measured in response to visual detection probes embedded within an item-method directed forgetting paradigm. In Experiment 1, study words were presented individually followed by an instruction to remember (R) or forget (F). Probes were presented at stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs) of 1,400, 1,800, or 2,600 msec in relation to the study word or memory instruction. After the study trials, a yes-no recognition task measured retention of R and F words. Experiment 2 added a no-word control condition and no-probe catch trials. In both experiments, post-F probe RTs were longer than post-R probe RTs at early SOAs. Confirming that participants attended to the memory instructions, there was a significant directed forgetting effect, with greater recognition of R than of F words. These findings contradict the view that directed forgetting in the item-method paradigm is due to the passive decay of nonrehearsed F items; instead, they are consistent with the view that intentional forgetting in an item-method paradigm occurs via the operation of an active, potentially inhibitory, cognitive process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Association Learning
  • Attention*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Intention*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Pitch Discrimination
  • Reaction Time*
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Verbal Learning*