Directed Forgetting of Real-Life Events in School-Age Children

Michael Anthony Cole Jr., Holger B. Elischberger*
Albion College

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Abstract In the present study, participants from 1st, 3rd, and 5th grade completed two simple science activities. A researcher instructed each participant to remember one of the activities and forget the other. Children’s memory for both activities was assessed after a two-week delay. Data analyses yielded a slight age-related increase in directed forgetting (DF) of the two activities, but overall levels of DF were low. In contrast, the trend for word list DF established in the literature was replicated. This pattern of results is interpreted as a reflection of the context sensitivity of cognitive processes in children.

Introduction: Directed forgetting is impaired memory following an instruction to forget certain information. In adults, directed forgetting has been reliably produced in numerous laboratory experiments (e.g., Sahakyan & Goodmon, 2007; Sheard & MacLeod, 2005; Sahakyan & Kelley, 2002). Developmental research has shown that directed forgetting increases with age. Harnishfeger and Pope (1996), for example, instructed groups of 1st, 3rd, and 5th graders and college students to remember a set of words for a later recall test. After the first ten words of a 20-item list had been presented, however, the experimenter informed the participant that the words presented thus far had been for practice only, and that they should forget them and focus on the next set of words instead. When comparing recall of words from the to-be-remembered (TBR) and to-be-forgotten (TBF) lists, 1st graders showed low levels of directed forgetting (2.50 TBR versus 1.25 TBF words, on average), compared to 3rd graders (3.13 versus 1.75), 5th graders (2.71 versus .86), and especially college students (6.25 versus 2.50).

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