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Separation of item and context in item-method directed forgetting


Contextual information plays a critical role in directed forgetting (DF) of lists of items, whereas DF of individual items has been primarily associated with item-level processing. This study was designed to investigate whether context processing also contributes to the forgetting of individual items. Participants first viewed a series of words, with task-irrelevant scene images (used as “context tags”) interspersed between them. Later, these words reappeared without the scenes and were followed by an instruction to remember or forget that word. Multivariate pattern analyses of fMRI data revealed that the reactivation of context information associated with the studied words (i.e., scene-related activity) was greater whereas the item-related information diminished after a forget instruction compared to a remember instruction. Critically, we found the magnitude of the separation between item information and context information predicted successful forgetting. These results suggest that the unbinding of an item from its context may support the intention to forget, and more generally they establish that contextual processing indeed contributes to item-method DF.

DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.117983