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J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2011 Sep;37(5):1287-93. doi: 10.1037/a0023921.

Thinking can cause forgetting: memory dynamics in creative problem solving.

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Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1007 West Harrison Street (MC 285), Chicago, IL 60607-7137, USA.


Research on retrieval-induced forgetting has shown that retrieval can cause the forgetting of related or competing items in memory (Anderson, Bjork, & Bjork, 1994). In the present research, we examined whether an analogous phenomenon occurs in the context of creative problem solving. Using the Remote Associates Test (RAT; Mednick, 1962), we found that attempting to generate a novel common associate to 3 cue words caused the forgetting of other strong associates related to those cue words. This problem-solving-induced forgetting effect occurred even when participants failed to generate a viable solution, increased in magnitude when participants spent additional time problem solving, and was positively correlated with problem-solving success on a separate set of RAT problems. These results implicate a role for forgetting in overcoming fixation in creative problem solving.

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