Forgetting as a consequence and enabler of creative thinking

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2014 Nov;40(6):1594-609. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000006. Epub 2014 Apr 28.


Four experiments examined the interplay of memory and creative cognition, showing that attempting to think of new uses for an object can cause the forgetting of old uses. Specifically, using an adapted version of the Alternative Uses Task (Guilford, 1957), participants studied several uses for a variety of common household objects before attempting to generate new uses for half of those objects. As revealed by performance on a final cued-recall task, attempting to generate new uses caused participants to forget the studied uses. This thinking-induced forgetting effect was observed regardless of whether participants attempted to generate unusual uses or common uses, but failed to emerge when participants used the studied uses as hints to guide their generation of new uses. Additionally, the forgetting effect correlated with individual differences in creativity such that participants who exhibited more forgetting generated more creative uses than participants who exhibited less forgetting. These findings indicate that thinking can cause forgetting and that such forgetting may contribute to the ability to think creatively.

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Creativity*
  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Memory*
  • Psychological Tests
  • Thinking*
  • Young Adult