Successful Remembering and Successful Forgetting Chapter uri icon


  • A creative perspective of our human tendency to forget is that forgetting at times can be adaptive. This is not to suggest that getting answers wrong on exams, forgetting where important documents are filed, and calling co-workers by the wrong names are adaptive events. Rather, the idea is that certain recurring situations are consistently and optimally managed by cognitive operations that necessitate at least temporary forgetting. Bjork's studies of adaptive forgetting have explored phenomena such as updating, reducing interference, and improving the retrieval strength of material being learned. Updating is the process of replacing outdated information with current relevant information, such as where one's vehicle is currently parked rather than where it was previously parked, what a patient's current medical status is rather than what it was previously, or what the situation is currently in an athletic competition rather than what it was previously (e.g., E. L. Bjork & Bjork, 1988; R. A. Bjork, 1972,1978; R. A. Bjork & Bjork, 1992). Forgetting a system's previous status, or putting it out of mind, can facilitate a clearer awareness of a current state. Proactive interference, a memory problem caused by confusion arising from prior learning, can be mitigated by directed forgetting of the prior knowledge (e.g., R. A. Bjork, 1970). A learning trial can benefit one's ability to retrieve encoded material more if forgetting has occurred prior to that study trial (R. A. Bjork & E. Bjork, 1992). In addition to these uses of forgetting, and others (e.g., regulation of emotion via forgetting of unpleasant memories and ideas), Bjork's insight that forgetting can have adaptive consequences has proven useful in understanding certain puzzling cognitive phenomena, specifically hypermnesia and incubation. Here, I will describe my work in which I have applied Bjork's adaptive forgetting ideas in the form of the forgetting fixation hypothesis. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

altmetric score

  • 9

author list (cited authors)

  • Benjamin, A. S.

citation count

  • 16

Book Title

  • Successful Remembering and Successful Forgetting: A Festschrift in Honor of Robert A. Bjork

publication date

  • January 2011