High Working Memory Capacity Predicts Less Retrieval Induced Forgetting

Jonathan T. Mall*, Candice C. Morey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background : Working Memory Capacity (WMC) is thought to be related to executive control and focused memory search abilities. These two hypotheses make contrasting predictions regarding the effects of retrieval on forgetting. Executive control during memory retrieval is believed to lead to retrieval induced forgetting (RIFO) because inhibition of competing memory traces during retrieval renders them temporarily less accessible. According to this suggestion, superior executive control should increase RIFO. Alternatively, superior focused search abilities could diminish RIFO, because delimiting the search set reduces the amount of competition between traces and thus the need for inhibition. Some evidence suggests that high WMC is related to more RIFO, which is inconsistent with the focused search hypothesis.

Methodology/Principal Findings: Using the RIFO paradigm, we created distinct and overlapping categories to manipulate the amount of competition between them. This overlap increased competition between some categories while exclusive use of weak exemplars ensured negligible effects of output interference and integration. Low WMC individuals exhibited RIFO within and between overlapping categories, indicating the effect of resolving competition during retrieval. High WMC individuals only exhibited between-category RIFO, suggesting they experienced reduced competition resolution demands. Low WMC Individuals exhibited the strongest RIFO and no retrieval benefits when interference resolution demands were high.

Conclusions/Significance: Our findings qualify the inhibitory explanation for RIFO by incorporating the focused search hypothesis for materials that are likely to pose extraordinary challenges at retrieval. The results highlight the importance of considering individual differences in retrieval-induced effects and qualify existing models of these effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere52806
Number of pages7
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2013

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Mental Recall
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Reaction Time
  • Visual Perception
  • Young Adult


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