The Benefit of Forgetting in Thinking and Remembering by Benjamin C. Storm

Current Directions in Psychological Science October 2011 vol. 20 no. 5 291-295

Author Affiliation

Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago

  1. Benjamin C. Storm, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1007 West Harrison Street (MC 285), Chicago, IL 60607 E-mail:


Forgetting is a surprising and unintended consequence of remembering. Research on retrieval-induced forgetting has shown that retrieval of one item in memory can cause the forgetting of other items in memory. This forgetting is argued to be the consequence of an inhibitory process that underlies the ability to overcome interference during retrieval. The research reviewed here suggests that individuals who exhibit more retrieval-induced forgetting are more capable of overcoming interference in other contexts as well (e.g., creative problem solving). Ironically, it appears that thinking and remembering rely at least in part on a process that underlies forgetting.


I’m wondering what this could mean for people who remain in therapy, or not, who spend years trying to remember abuse & reliving trauma. Are they actually forgetting in order to remember? If so, then a lifetime will be spent trying to retrieve memories that were forgotten.

Could change the course of some memory work if taken seriously. However, that would require this article to be read, and a willingness to make severe alterations in thought patterns as well as the investments made by therapist and patient to know “what happened” in spite of evidence that suggests it may not be possible. JB

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