The Continued March Towards Ecological Validity in Laboratory Studies of Blocked and Recovered Memories
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The debate over the existence of recovered memories remains a divisive issue for mental health practitioners and cognitive scientists, in part due to a limited understanding of the processes underlying motivated forgetting behaviors. The present study argues motivated forgetting is best understood in the context of normal memory processes. For instance, previous studies utilizing a retrieval-biasing procedure, referred to as the dropout procedure, have shown that practiced avoidance activities can create profound memory blocks for lists of words and short stories. Experiment 1 addressed whether these forgetting effects extend to memories with greater personal significance, such as autobiographical memories. In Experiment 1 participants studied descriptions of target and non-target autobiographical events. Non-target memory descriptions were then re-presented several times during the practiced avoidance phase of the experiment. In contrast, target memory descriptions were “dropped out” of the study list and did not receive extra study exposures. On a subsequent memory test, significant memory deficits were observed for target memory descriptions when performance was compared to a control condition that did not participate in the practiced avoidance phase. These results provided evidence that emotionally-laden autobiographical memories are susceptible to memory blocks, and further support the theoretical contention that practiced avoidance could be used to regulate unwanted memories. The present study also examined how and under what circumstances forgetting effects following the dropout procedure occur. Experiments 2 and 3 report dissociable effects of avoidance activities involving competitive retrieval practice and incidental re-presentations of non-target items. Although both avoidance tasks resulted in significant forgetting effects, greater memory impairments were observed for target items following competitive retrieval practice of non-target items. This finding was consistent with predictions from inhibition theory, and suggests that different avoidance activities may recruit different forgetting mechanisms. Finally, Experiments 2 and 3 examined the relationship between individual differences in repressive coping style and forgetting effects produced by the dropout procedure. Participants assessed to be repressive copers were more likely to forget negative target items, but only under conditions where avoidance tasks involved competitive retrieval practice. This finding was consistent with previous research demonstrating enhanced memory control abilities among repressive copers.
Handy, Justin Dean (2015). The Continued March Towards Ecological Validity in Laboratory Studies of Blocked and Recovered Memories. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from