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Retrieval induces adaptive forgetting of competing memories via cortical pattern suppression

Nature Neuroscience volume 18, pages 582589 (2015) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Remembering a past experience can, surprisingly, cause forgetting. Forgetting arises when other competing traces interfere with retrieval and inhibitory control mechanisms are engaged to suppress the distraction they cause. This form of forgetting is considered to be adaptive because it reduces future interference. The effect of this proposed inhibition process on competing memories has, however, never been observed, as behavioral methods are 'blind' to retrieval dynamics and neuroimaging methods have not isolated retrieval of individual memories. We developed a canonical template tracking method to quantify the activation state of individual target memories and competitors during retrieval. This method revealed that repeatedly retrieving target memories suppressed cortical patterns unique to competitors. Pattern suppression was related to engagement of prefrontal regions that have been implicated in resolving retrieval competition and, critically, predicted later forgetting. Thus, our findings demonstrate a cortical pattern suppression mechanism through which remembering adaptively shapes which aspects of our past remain accessible.

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Change history

  • 15 August 2018

    In the published version of this article, a detail is missing from the Methods section "Experimental procedure." The following sentence is to be inserted at the end of its fourth paragraph: "If participants failed to respond within 3.5 s, we assumed that they were unable to successfully recognize the item and coded the corresponding trial as an error." The critical behavioral forgetting effect is significant irrespective of whether these timeouts are coded as errors (t23 = 4.91, P < 0.001) or as missing data (t23 = 3.31, P < 0.01). The original article has not been corrected.

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Acknowledgements

We thank B. Staresina and S. Hanslmayr for commenting on previous versions of the manuscript. This work was supported by a fellowship from the German Research Foundation (WI-3784/1-1) awarded to M.W. and by UK Medical Research Council grant MC-A060-5PR00 awarded to M.C.A.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK.

    • Maria Wimber
  2. MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK.

    • Maria Wimber
    • , Arjen Alink
    • , Ian Charest
    • , Nikolaus Kriegeskorte
    •  & Michael C Anderson
  3. Behavioural and Clinical Neurosciences Institute, Cambridge, UK.

    • Michael C Anderson

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Contributions

M.W. and M.C.A. designed the experiment, with important contributions by I.C. and N.K. M.W. conducted the experiment. M.W., A.A. and I.C. analyzed the data. All authors contributed to the analysis approach and to data interpretation. M.W. and M.C.A. wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Maria Wimber.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.3973

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