Article abstract

Nature Neuroscience 10, 908 - 914 (2007)
Published online: 3 June 2007 | Corrected online: 10 June 2007 | doi:10.1038/nn1918

Decreased demands on cognitive control reveal the neural processing benefits of forgetting

Brice A Kuhl1, Nicole M Dudukovic1, Itamar Kahn1 & Anthony D Wagner1,2

Remembering often requires the selection of goal-relevant memories in the face of competition from irrelevant memories. Although there is a cost of selecting target memories over competing memories (increased forgetting of the competing memories), here we report neural evidence for the adaptive benefits of forgetting—namely, reduced demands on cognitive control during future acts of remembering. Functional magnetic resonance imaging during selective retrieval showed that repeated retrieval of target memories was accompanied by dynamic reductions in the engagement of functionally coupled cognitive control mechanisms that detect (anterior cingulate cortex) and resolve (dorsolateral and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex) mnemonic competition. Strikingly, regression analyses revealed that this prefrontal disengagement tracked the extent to which competing memories were forgotten; greater forgetting of competing memories was associated with a greater decline in demands on prefrontal cortex during target remembering. These findings indicate that, although forgetting can be frustrating, memory might be adaptive because forgetting confers neural processing benefits.

  1. Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Jordan Hall, Building 420, 450 Serra Mall, Stanford, California 94305, USA.
  2. Department of Neurosciences Program, Stanford University, Jordan Hall, Building 420, 450 Serra Mall, Stanford, California 94305, USA.

Correspondence to: Brice A Kuhl1 e-mail:


These links to content published by NPG are automatically generated.


Anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortex: who's in control?

Nature Neuroscience News and Views (01 May 2000)

Cognitive neuroscience Repression revisited

Nature News and Views (15 Mar 2001)