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Separable neural mechanisms support intentional forgetting and thought substitution


Psychological and neuroscientific experiments have established that people can intentionally forget information via different strategies: direct suppression and thought substitution. However, few studies have directly compared the effectiveness of these strategies in forgetting specific items, and it remains an open question if the neural mechanisms supporting these strategies differ. Here, we developed a novel item-method directed forgetting paradigm with Remember, Forget, and Imagine cues, and recorded EEG to directly compare these strategies. Behaviorally, Forget and Imagine cues produced similar forgetting compared to Remember cues, but through separable neural processes; Forget cues elicited frontal oscillatory power changes that were predictive of future forgetting, whereas item-cue representational similarity was predictive of later accuracy for Imagine cues. These results suggest that both strategies can lead to intentional forgetting, but directed forgetting may rely on frontally-mediated suppression, while thought substitution may lead to contextual shifting, impairing successful retrieval.

DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2021.06.013