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Memory. 2014;22(4):340-8. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2013.789914. Epub 2013 Apr 22.

Escaping mental fixation: incubation and inhibition in creative problem solving.

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a Department of Psychology , University of Illinois at Chicago , IL , USA.


The inhibition underlying retrieval-induced forgetting has been argued to play a crucial role in the ability to overcome interference in memory and cognition. Supporting this conjecture, recent research has found that participants who exhibit greater levels of retrieval-induced forgetting are better at overcoming fixation on the Remote Associates Test (RAT) than are participants who exhibit reduced levels of retrieval-induced forgetting. If the ability to inhibit inappropriate responses improves the ability to solve fixated RAT problems, then reducing the fixation caused by inappropriate responses should reduce the correlation between retrieval-induced forgetting and problem solving. We tested this hypothesis by inserting an incubation period between two 30-second problem-solving attempts: half of the participants were given an incubation period (distributed condition), half were not (continuous condition). In the continuous condition retrieval-induced forgetting correlated positively with problem-solving performance during both the initial and final 30 seconds of problem solving. In the distributed condition retrieval-induced forgetting only correlated with problem-solving performance during the first 30 seconds of problem solving. This finding suggests that incubation reduces the need for inhibition by reducing the extent to which problem solvers suffer fixation.

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