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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

March 2009, Vol. 21, No. 3, Pages 538-549
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2009.21043)
© 2008 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Retrieval from Episodic Memory: Neural Mechanisms of Interference Resolution
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Abstract

Selectively retrieving a target memory among related memories requires some degree of inhibitory control over interfering and competing memories, a process assumed to be supported by inhibitory mechanisms. Evidence from behavioral studies suggests that such inhibitory control can lead to subsequent forgetting of the interfering information, a finding called retrieval-induced forgetting [Anderson, M. C., Bjork, R. A., & Bjork, E. L. Remembering can cause forgetting: Retrieval dynamics in long-term memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition, 20, 1063–1087, 1994]. In the present functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we investigated the neural processes underlying retrieval-induced forgetting and, in particular, examined the extent to which these processes are retrieval (i.e., selection) specific. Participants actively retrieved a subset of previously studied material (selection condition), or were re-exposed to the same material for relearning (nonselection condition). Replicating prior behavioral work, selective retrieval caused significant forgetting of the nonretrieved items on a delayed recall test, relative to the re-exposure condition. Selective retrieval was associated with increased BOLD responses in the posterior temporal and parietal association cortices, in the bilateral hippocampus, and in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Medial and lateral prefrontal areas showed a strong negative linear relationship between selection-related neural activity and subsequent forgetting of competitors. These findings suggest reduced demands on inhibitory control processes when interference is successfully resolved during early selective retrieval from episodic memory.