The Influence of Context Reinstatement on the Recovery of Blocked Memories
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The present study examined the effect of context reinstatement on the recovery of experimentally blocked memories and the possible creation of memory errors. Context refers to every aspect of the environment in which a to-be-remembered event has taken place. Physically returning to a learning context, or creating a mental representation of it, may allow one to use context information as a source of memory cues to enhance memory performance. This is referred to as context reinstatement. Research shows that memory performance is best if learning and testing conditions match, rather than if they are mismatched (Smith, 1979; Thomson & Tulving, 1970). It is unclear if context reinstatement can influence not only the enhancement of continuously accessible memories, but whether it might also help with the recovery of blocked memories. Also, because mentally reinstating context is a form of mental imagery, it is possible that this process of reinstatement would lead to the creation of memories for imagined events or memory errors. To examine these questions the present study manipulated mental and physical reinstatement and examined both accurate and inaccurate memories. The present study included three phases. First, participants performed an incidental learning task with a series of word lists in one context. Next, participants performed either memory interference tasks for three of the learned lists or distracter tasks in a different context. Lastly, participants completed a series of memory tests in either the first or second context, with or without context reinstatement. Results showed strong blocking effects in the forget condition groups. Recovery effects were stronger in the physical reinstatement group, as compared to the other groups. Interestingly, memory errors were similar across experimental groups. Thus, physical, but not mental, context reinstatement aided in the recovery of blocked memories, but the use of mental reinstatement did not lead to memory errors. Results may edify other memory researchers, forensic investigators and clinical psychologists who may use forms of context reinstatement and mental imagery for memory enhancement or recovery purposes.
Williams, Jennifer (2006). The Influence of Context Reinstatement on the Recovery of Blocked Memories. Available electronically from