Forgetting our personal past: Socially shared retrieval-induced forgetting of autobiographical memories

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 142 (4):1084-1099 (2013)
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Abstract

People often talk to others about their personal past. These discussions are inherently selective. Selective retrieval of memories in the course of a conversation may induce forgetting of unmentioned but related memories for both speakers and listeners (Cuc, Koppel, & Hirst, 2007). Cuc et al. (2007) defined the forgetting on the part of the speaker as within-individual retrieval-induced forgetting (WI-RIF) and the forgetting on the part of the listener as socially shared retrieval-induced forgetting (SS-RIF). However, if the forgetting associated with WI-RIF and SS-RIF is to be taken seriously as a mechanism that shapes both individual and shared memories, this mechanism must be demonstrated with meaningful material and in ecologically valid groups. In our first 2 experiments we extended SS-RIF from unemotional, experimenter-contrived material to the emotional and unemotional autobiographical memories of strangers (Experiment 1) and intimate couples (Experiment 2) when merely overhearing the speaker selectively practice memories. We then extended these results to the context of a free-flowing conversation (Experiments 3 and 4). In all 4 experiments we found WI-RIF and SS-RIF regardless of the emotionalvalence or individual ownership of the memories. We discuss our findings in terms of the role of conversational silence in shaping both our personal and shared pasts.

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