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Trends Cogn Sci. 2014 Jun;18(6):279-92. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2014.03.002. Epub 2014 Apr 18.

Neural mechanisms of motivated forgetting.

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MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK; Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. Electronic address:
School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK; Department of Psychology - Zukunftskolleg, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany.


Not all memories are equally welcome in awareness. People limit the time they spend thinking about unpleasant experiences, a process that begins during encoding, but that continues when cues later remind someone of the memory. Here, we review the emerging behavioural and neuroimaging evidence that suppressing awareness of an unwelcome memory, at encoding or retrieval, is achieved by inhibitory control processes mediated by the lateral prefrontal cortex. These mechanisms interact with neural structures that represent experiences in memory, disrupting traces that support retention. Thus, mechanisms engaged to regulate momentary awareness introduce lasting biases in which experiences remain accessible. We argue that theories of forgetting that neglect the motivated control of awareness omit a powerful force shaping the retention of our past.

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