Recall-Induced Forgetting for Real-World Experiences

Recall researchers Geoff Ward and Caterina Cinel from the University of Essex are finishing a preliminary series of three psychology experiments for Recall examining whether a phenomenon known as retrieval-induced forgetting (or RIF, see Anderson, Bjork & Bjork, 1994) which can be observed with words in the psychology laboratory will be likely to be found with images of autobiographical memories in the real world.

It is widely accepted that when we learn a series of category-exemplar pairs in the laboratory (such as learn FRUIT –Orange, and FRUIT – Banana), our ability to later recall a given fruit is improved if it is tested in the intervening period (a phenomenon known as retrieval practice). So, giving practice to participants with the cue “FRUIT -Or?” will lead participants to say “Orange”, and not surprisingly, they will then be more likely to associate FRUIT -Orange as a studied pair at a later test. What is somewhat surprising is that our ability to recall a non-practiced item (e.g., FRUIT-Banana) actually decreases following practice of FRUIT-Orange.

This laboratory phenomena has been found in learning classroom facts (Macrae & MacLeod, 1999) and in mock eyewitness testimony study (Migueles & Garcia-Bajos, 2007; Shaw, Bjork & Handel, 1995). In these studies, revising or questioning a subset of the material improved later recall of the practiced material but decreased recall of the related but unpracticed material.

One intuition that we have is that when we think of holidays, weddings or memorable events from a few years back, it is often photos of those events that first come to mind. This is not surprising as we may review and reminisce over these treasured photographs and keepsakes. But what if the very act of reviewing a photo actually decreased your accessibility to non-photographed events…

We considered a fictitious holiday in which 6 holiday events were experienced in each of 8 European countries. Then a subset of the same events were presented for retrieval practice. Would we find evidence that in a later test the non-repeated events from the practiced country would be particularly poorly recalled? Our research is far from complete on this issue, but to date, we have replicated past RIF findings using category-exemplar pairs but this finding has not as yet been observed with fictitious holidays, whether they be context-laden multimedia presentations of a holiday or simply country-event pairs. Our research continues….

We’ve been following closely the work of Prof. Simon Dennis this month (University Newcastle, Australia) who is working on a project very similar to RECALL, and who is particularly interested in automatically categorising event or activity boundaries using smartphone technology….. Check out his youtube talk on the issue: