Towards a Cognitive and Neurobiological Model of Motivated Forgetting

  • Michael C. Anderson
  • Ean Huddleston
Part of the Nebraska Symposium on Motivation book series (NSM, volume 58)


Historically, research on forgetting has been dominated by the assumption that forgetting is passive, reflecting decay, interference, and changes in context. This emphasis arises from the pervasive assumption that forgetting is a negative outcome. Here, we present a functional view of forgetting in which the fate of experience in memory is determined as much by motivational forces that dictate the focus of attention as it is by passive factors. A central tool of motivated forgetting is retrieval suppression, a process whereby people shut down episodic retrieval to control awareness. We review behavioral, neurobiological, and clinical research and show that retrieval suppression leads us to forget suppressed experiences. We discuss key questions necessary to address to develop this model, relationships to other forgetting phenomena, and the implications of this research for understanding recovered memories. This work provides a foundation for understanding how motivational forces influence what we remember of life experience.


Recovered memories Retrieval-suppression Motivated forgetting Neuroimaging and memory control 



Preparation of this article was supported by National Science Foundation grant 0643321. The authors would like to thank Robert Bjork, Steve Smith, Karl-Heinz Bauml, Lili Sahakyan, Tracy Taylor-Hemick, Paula Hertel, Jutta Joormann, Kepa Paz-Alanso, Roland Benoit, and Zara Bergstrom for useful comments on this manuscript.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences UnitUniversity of CambridgeEnglandUK

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