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Psychol Sci. 2014 Jun;25(6):1242-8. doi: 10.1177/0956797614526063. Epub 2014 Apr 8.

Don't do it again! Directed forgetting of habits.

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Regensburg University
Regensburg University.


Most daily routines are determined by habits. However, the experienced ease and automaticity of habit formation and execution come at a cost when habits that are no longer appropriate must be overcome. So far, proactive and reactive control strategies that prevent inappropriate habit execution either by preparation or "on the fly" have been identified. Here, we present evidence for a third, retroactive control strategy. In two experiments using the list method of directed forgetting, the accessibility of newly learned and practiced stimulus-response rules was significantly reduced when participants were cued to forget the rules rather than to remember them. The results thus show that directed forgetting, so far observed and investigated only for episodic memory traces, can also be applied to habits. The findings further emphasize the adaptive value of forgetting and can be taken as evidence of a retroactive strategy of habit control.


cognitive control; directed forgetting; habit; response compatibility

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