A progress report on the inhibitory account of retrieval-induced forgetting

Mem Cognit. 2012 Aug;40(6):827-43. doi: 10.3758/s13421-012-0211-7.


Remembering and forgetting reflect fundamentally interdependent processes in human memory (Bjork, 2011). This interdependency is particularly apparent in research on retrieval-induced forgetting, which has shown that retrieving a subset of information can cause the forgetting of other information (Anderson et al. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition 20:1063-1087, 1994). According to one prominent theoretical account, retrieval-induced forgetting is caused by an inhibitory process that acts to resolve competition during retrieval. Specifically, when cues activate competing, contextually inappropriate responses, those responses are claimed to be inhibited in order to facilitate the retrieval of target responses (Anderson Journal of Memory and Language 49: 415-445, 2003; Levy & Anderson Trends in Cognitive Sciences 6: 299-305, 2002; Storm, 2011b). Interest in retrieval-induced forgetting has grown steadily over the past two decades. In fact, a search of the abstracts at the 5th International Conference on Memory (ICOM, York University, 2011) revealed 40 presentations specifically mentioning "retrieval-induced forgetting," and nearly twice that number referring to the concept of inhibition. Clearly, researchers are interested in the empirical phenomenon of retrieval-induced forgetting, and inhibition is gaining increasing attention as a mechanism involved in memory. The goal of the present progress report is to critically review the inhibitory account of retrieval-induced forgetting and to provide direction so that future research can have a more meaningful impact on our understanding of human memory.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Research Report