Dynamic Cognitive Processes

pp 219-248

List Method Directed Forgetting: Return of the Selective Rehearsal Account

  • Erin D. SheardAffiliated withUniversity of Toronto
  • , Colin M. MacLeodAffiliated withUniversity of Waterloo

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Explanations of directed forgetting—the poorer memory for information that we are instructed to forget (F items) than for information that we are instructed to remember (R items)—have featured two classes of accounts: rehearsal and retrieval. Under the rehearsal account, the argument has consistently been that R items are selectively rehearsed more than F items. Retrieval accounts have been more varied, but the concept of retrieval inhibition has become prevalent, the idea being that F items are suppressed following a forget instruction. For the last 10–15 years, these two explanations have been attached to the two most common procedures in directed forgetting studies: selective rehearsal to the item method, where individual items are randomly assigned instructions, and retrieval inhibition to the list method, where half the list is designated as to-be-forgotten. We report serial position and test warning effects that demonstrate clear selective rehearsal effects in the list procedure. We argue that a separate retrieval inhibition account of the list method is not parsimonious; rather, a selective rehearsal explanation can readily accommodate the principal results obtained under both procedures.

Key words

Directed forgetting rehearsal selective rehearsal inhibition