Reconsidering unconscious persistence: Suppressing unwanted memories reduces their indirect expression in later thoughts.
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Wang, Y., Luppi, A., Fawcett, J., & Anderson, M. (2019). Reconsidering unconscious persistence: Suppressing unwanted memories reduces their indirect expression in later thoughts.. Cognition, 187 78-94. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2019.02.016
When we seek to forget unwelcome memories, does the suppressed content still exert an unconscious influence on our thoughts? Although intentionally stopping retrieval of a memory reduces later episodic retention for the suppressed trace, it remains unclear the extent to which suppressed content persists in indirectly influencing mental processes. Here we tested whether inhibitory control processes underlying retrieval suppression alter the influence of a memory’s underlying semantic content on later thought. To achieve this, across two experiments, we tested whether suppressing episodic retrieval of to-be-excluded memories reduced the indirect expression of the unwanted content on an apparently unrelated test of problem solving: the remote associates test (RAT). Experiment 1 found that suppressed content was less likely than unsuppressed content to emerge as solutions to RAT problems. Indeed, suppression abolished evidence of conceptual priming, even when participants reported no awareness of the relationship between the memory and the problem solving tasks. Experiment 2 replicated this effect and also found that directing participants to use explicit memory to solve RAT problems eliminated suppression effects. Experiment 2 thus rules out the possibility that suppression effects reflect contamination by covert explicit retrieval strategies. Together, our results indicate that inhibitory control processes underlying retrieval suppression not only disrupt episodic retention, but also reduce the indirect influence of suppressed semantic content during unrelated thought processes. Considered with other recent demonstrations of implicit suppression effects, these findings indicate that historical assumptions about the persisting influence of suppressed thoughts on mental health require closer empirical scrutiny and need to be reconsidered.
Humans, Cues, Mental Recall, Thinking, Semantics, Adult, Female, Male, Young Adult, Executive Function, Memory, Episodic, Inhibition, Psychological
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2019.02.016
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/290596
Attribution 4.0 International
Licence URL: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/