Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Study of Forgetting Provides Useful Information About Memory Function

Dr. Mitchell Metzger has recently been studying a process known in the cognitive psychology literature as ‘directed forgetting’.  While instances of everyday forgetting (Where did I put my keys?, Where is my car parked?, etc.) are common occurrences, directed forgetting is an experimental procedure where participants are explicitly instructed to remember certain stimuli while disregarding others.  Results of these studies typically show that when memory is tested for all of the previously shown stimuli, participants show better memory for items they were instructed to remember, and poor memory for items they were told to forget.  These results are important because they demonstrate that previously-experienced stimuli can come under the control of later cues.  While much of the research in this area has focused on participant’s ability to remember verbal cues (e.g., word recall and recognition procedures are common in directed forgetting research), Dr. Metzger’s recent work has shown that these processes can also be observed in recognition memory for faces.  In some ways this is remarkable, given our ability to store and retrieve memories for people we have previously seen.  That is, while we might not always be able to put a name with a face we have seen before, we are very capable of recognizing that we've seen a face before.  Dr. Metzger’s research in directed forgetting has been ongoing since 2008, and undergraduate psychology majors Tim Batdorf and Jenn Seda (now both graduated from AU) have assisted in the data collection for these studies. 

*The results of these experiments will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of General Psychology