Theta oscillations predict the detrimental effects of memory retrieval

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2010 Sep;10(3):329-38. doi: 10.3758/CABN.10.3.329.


Retrieving a target item from episodic memory typically enhances later memory for the retrieved item but causes forgetting of competing irrelevant memories. This finding is termed retrieval-induced forgetting (RIF) and is assumed to be the consequence of an inhibitory mechanism resolving retrieval competition. In the present study, we examined brain oscillatory processes related to RIF, as induced by competitive memory retrieval. Contrasting a competitive with a noncompetitive retrieval condition, we found a stronger increase in early evoked theta (4-7 Hz) activity, which specifically predicted RIF, but not retrieval-induced enhancement. Within the cognitive framework of RIF, these findings suggest that theta oscillations reflect arising interference and its resolution during competitive retrieval in episodic memory. Supplemental materials for this article may be downloaded from

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Theta Rhythm / physiology*
  • Young Adult