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Psychol Rev. 2013 Oct;120(4):852-72. doi: 10.1037/a0034246.

Putting retrieval-induced forgetting in context: an inhibition-free, context-based account.

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Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo.


We present a new theoretical account of retrieval-induced forgetting (RIF) together with new experimental evidence that fits this account and challenges the dominant inhibition account. RIF occurs when the retrieval of some material from memory produces later forgetting of related material. The inhibition account asserts that RIF is the result of an inhibition mechanism that acts during retrieval to suppress the representations of interfering competitors. This inhibition is enduring, such that the suppressed material is difficult to access on a later test and is, therefore, recalled more poorly than baseline material. Although the inhibition account is widely accepted, a growing body of research challenges its fundamental assumptions. Our alternative account of RIF instead emphasizes the role of context in remembering. According to this context account, both of 2 tenets must be met for RIF to occur: (a) A context change must occur between study and subsequent retrieval practice, and (b) the retrieval practice context must be the active context during the final test when testing practiced categories. The results of 3 experiments, which directly test the divergent predictions of the 2 accounts, support the context account but cannot be explained by the inhibition account. In an extensive discussion, we survey the literature on RIF and apply our context account to the key findings, demonstrating the explanatory power of context.

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