That’s a good idea, but let’s keep thinking! Can we prevent our initial ideas from being forgotten as a consequence of thinking of new ideas?

Abstract

Four experiments examined participants’ ability to remember their own ideas in a modified Alternative Uses Task. Participants were asked to generate uses for objects, and on half of the trials participants were then asked to think of more uses. Memory for the initial uses they generated was then tested via a cued-recall task. Results demonstrated that participants forgot their initial uses as a consequence of thinking of new uses (referred to as the thinking-induced forgetting effect), and this effect persisted even when participants chose the subset of uses they thought were the most creative and to be remembered. The only scenario in which uses were protected from forgetting was when they were required to use their uses as hints for generating more ideas. Together, these findings demonstrate that one’s own ideas are susceptible to forgetting when additional ideas must be generated, indicating that thinking is a modifier of memory despite one’s motivation to preserve their ideas.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Although not a goal of the present research, it is interesting to note that the results of Experiment 1 do provide some evidence of selective directed forgetting (see e.g., Delaney, Nghiem, and Waldum, 2009; Storm, Koppel, & Wilson, 2013). Specifically, looking at baseline items alone, selected uses in the selection condition (M = 0.77, SE = 0.02) were recalled significantly better than were uses in the remember-all condition (M = 0.70, SE = 0.02), t(94) = 2.49, p = 0.01, d = 0.51, whereas non-selected uses in the selection condition (M = 0.62, SE = 0.02) were recalled significantly worse than uses in the remember-all condition, t(94) = 2.14, p = 0.04, d = 0.44. This result suggests that participants were able to selectively forget the subset of uses that were deemed non-creative/not-to-be-remembered while maintaining (and even increasing) the accessibility of the subset of uses that were deemed creative/to-be-remembered.

  2. 2.

    On average, when attempting to recall the initially generated uses related to a given object at the time of final test, participants recalled 0.15, 0.11, 0.18, and 0.12 of the uses they had generated during the additional thinking phases of Experiments 1, 2a, 2b, and 3, respectively. It is interesting to note that significant thinking-induced forgetting effects were observed in Experiments 1 and 2 (for selected and non-selected items) even when we limited our analysis to participants who, as determined by median split, made the fewest number of intrusions, all p values <0.05.

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Acknowledgments

We thank O. Altamirano, S. Chea, J. Grinkevich, P. Gunalp, M. Hickman, S. Katawetheesakun, S. Kotzman, P. Small, S. Shrikanth, K. Ramakrishnan, and K. Williams for their assistance with data collection and data coding, as well as N. Davidenko for his comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Annie S. Ditta.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Ditta, A.S., Storm, B.C. That’s a good idea, but let’s keep thinking! Can we prevent our initial ideas from being forgotten as a consequence of thinking of new ideas?. Psychological Research 81, 678–689 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-016-0773-2

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Keywords

  • Retrieval Practice
  • Creative Idea
  • Final Recall
  • Thinking Condition
  • Additional Thinking