Research Article: Can self-referential information improve directed forgetting? Evidence from a multinomial processing tree model

Date Published: January 28, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Runzhou Wang, Yaowu Song, Xiaojun Zhao, Benjamin Motz.


A large body of research has shown that self-referential processing can enhance an individual’s memory of information. However, there are many arguments about how self-referential processing affects directed forgetting (DF). In this study, two experiments were designed to investigate the DF effect and its internal psychological mechanism under explicit and implicit referential conditions using the item-method DF paradigm combined with the storage-retrieval MPT model. We compare the difference in the DF effect between self-referential and other-referential conditions and explain the reasons for the difference. Our results suggest that the item-method DF effect is the result of a selective rehearsal mechanism and a retrieval inhibition mechanism working together. Both self-reference and other-reference can cause DF in explicit referential processing or implicit referential processing, although the DF effect is stronger under the self-referential condition. Furthermore, the memory advantage effect of implicit self-referential processing is stronger than that of explicit self-referential processing.

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As an aspect of memory, forgetting plays a crucial role in the process of cognitive processing. In daily life, individuals must adjust their memory according to changes in external environmental information. For example, when performing a programmatic task, one may misremember the operation of a key step. If one finds that this information is wrong, he or she must forget it in order to prevent erroneous information from occupying limited cognitive resources, resulting in memory overload [1]. This emphasis on directional and intentional forgetting is called directed forgetting (DF), which means that forgotten instructions cause memory impairment [2]. Previous studies have found that intentionally forgotten interference information can help individuals perform current tasks more efficiently, while proactively forgetting self-related negative emotions and traumatic events has a positive effect on mental health [3, 4].

The purpose of Experiment 1 is to examine whether DF will occur and what the internal psychological mechanism of DF is under explicit self-reference or other-reference conditions. In addition, we compare the differences between the DF effects of these two referential conditions and consider what type of mechanism causes the differences. Finally, we provide quantitative explanations.

The purpose of Experiment 2 is to explore whether implicit self-reference has an impact on DF, whether the influence of implicit self-reference on DF differs from the influence of implicit other-reference, and what the psychological mechanism is that causes this impact. Incidental self-processing is an implicit and unconscious self-referential processing propensity. Because the connection between the self and external stimuli often occurs automatically and incidental self-processing is an important manifestation of this automatic connection, we use tasks that can induce incidental self-processing to improve ecological validity [48]. Zhu et al. (2013) proposed that participants reacted more quickly to their own handwriting than to other people’s handwriting, demonstrating that handwriting can induce incidental self-processing [49]. Turk et al. (2008) used names and faces to examine the effect of incidental self-processing on memory and found that memory of self-related materials is better than memory of other-related materials. Therefore, Experiment 2 used handwriting to induce incidental self-referential processing and other-referential processing to investigate the DF effect under implicit referential conditions. We propose two hypotheses:

In this study, the item-method DF paradigm and the storage-retrieval MPT model were combined to examine whether DF occurs under a self-reference condition, what the internal psychological mechanisms of this DF are, whether the DF effect differs between self-referential and other-referential conditions, and what causes this difference. Experiment 1 used an explicit referential processing method in which participants performed self- or other-referential processing through silent reading and imagining. Experiment 2 used an ecological validity method of incidental self-processing to induce implicit self- or other-referential processing through handwriting.




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