Wiping out memories: New support for a mental context change account of directed forgetting.

R. Mulji, Glen Bodner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Costs and benefits of directed forgetting are observed when a between-list instruction to forget List 1 impairs List 1 recall while enhancing List 2 recall. These effects are often ascribed to intentional inhibition of List 1. Contrary to this inhibition account, we found that a forget instruction did not produce costs unless an explicit instruction to concentrate on List 2 was used (Experiment 1). Alternatively, costs may be ascribed to a shift in mental context between encoding and retrieval. Consistent with this mental context-change account, an unexpected task (wiping the computer screen and one's hands) produced costs comparable to a forget instruction, as did as a brief chat between lists (Experiment 2). A numbersearch task between lists produced neither costs nor benefits (Experiment 3), suggesting that mere distraction is insufficient for inducing mental context change. Our findings support the claim that mental context change underlies both intentional and unintentional forgetting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)763-773
Number of pages11
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sept 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • directed forgetting
  • context effects
  • recall
  • list method
  • memory
  • Context effects
  • List method
  • Memory
  • Recall
  • Directed forgetting


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