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When encountering reminders of memories that we prefer not to think about, we often try to exclude those memories from awareness. Past studies have revealed that such suppression attempts can reduce the subsequent recollection of unwanted memories. In the present study, we examined whether the inhibitory effects extend even to associated behavioral responses. Participants learned cue–target pairs for emotional and nonemotional targets and were additionally trained in behavioral responses for each cue. Afterward, they were shown the cues and instructed either to think or to avoid thinking about the targets without performing any behaviors. In a final test phase, behavioral performance was tested for all of the cues. When the targets were neutral, participants’ attempts to avoid retrieval reduced accuracy and increased reaction times in generating behavioral responses associated with cues. By contrast, behavioral performance was not affected by suppression attempts when the targets were emotional. These results indicate that controlling unwanted recollection is powerful enough to inhibit associated behavioral responses—but only for nonemotional memories.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Journal Article

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