Using the Goldilocks Principle to Suppress Negative Memories: Finding the Valence that is Just Right

Pacheco, Paula [Browse]
Senior thesis
56 pages


Norman, Ken [Browse]
Witten, Ilana [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Psychology [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
Retrieval of unwanted memories can be distracting, even debilitating. Research has demonstrated that people are generally capable of stopping the automatic retrieval of unwanted memories, as illustrated by the commonly used think/no-think paradigm (Anderson, 2003; Anderson & Green, 2001). A deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms of memory control is needed to comprehend why suppression of negative memories is successful in most people but not in all. This insight might come by using the nonmonotonic plasticity hypothesis as a lens to investigate memory suppression. While motivation to successfully inhibit a memory might be expected to scale linearly with the negativity of its valence, the ability to successfully inhibit memories may actually follow a U-shaped pattern (Detre, Natarajan, Gershman, & Norman, 2013). If an unwanted memory is too innocuous and too weakly activated, then its strength will remain unchanged. Conversely, if an unwanted memory is too strongly activated because it is disturbing, then the memory will be strengthened. Instead, there is a sweet spot with activation that is just right and consequently facilitates the suppression of memories. Here, we postulate that memory suppression will be most effective for target negative memories whose negative valence is neither too strong nor too weak initially. Thus, the present study attempts to reconcile inconsistencies in the memory control literature and suggest a more effective way of managing highly negative memories in the wake of traumatic experiences. Keywords: memory suppression, unwanted memories, valence, think/no-think, nonmonotonic plasticity hypothesis

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