Remembering can cause forgetting: retrieval dynamics in long-term memory

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 1994 Sep;20(5):1063-87. doi: 10.1037//0278-7393.20.5.1063.


Three studies show that the retrieval process itself causes long-lasting forgetting. Ss studied 8 categories (e.g., Fruit). Half the members of half the categories were then repeatedly practiced through retrieval tests (e.g., Fruit Or_____). Category-cued recall of unpracticed members of practiced categories was impaired on a delayed test. Experiments 2 and 3 identified 2 significant features of this retrieval-induced forgetting: The impairment remains when output interference is controlled, suggesting a retrieval-based suppression that endures for 20 min or more, and the impairment appears restricted to high-frequency members. Low-frequency members show little impairment, even in the presence of strong, practiced competitors that might be expected to block access to those items. These findings suggest a critical role for suppression in models of retrieval inhibition and implicate the retrieval process itself in everyday forgetting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Memory*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Task Performance and Analysis