Electrophysiological correlates of competitor activation predict retrieval-induced forgetting

Robin Hellerstedt, Mikael Johansson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The very act of retrieval modifies the accessibility of memory for knowledge and past events and can also cause forgetting. A prominent theory of such retrieval-induced forgetting holds that retrieval recruits inhibition to overcome interference from competing memories, rendering these memories inaccessible. The present study tested a fundamental tenet of the inhibitory-control account: the competition-dependence assumption. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded while participants engaged in a competitive retrieval task. Competition levels were manipulated within the retrieval task by varying the cue-item associative strength of competing items. In order to temporally separate ERP correlates of competitor activation and target retrieval, memory was probed with the sequential presentation of two cues: a category cue, to reactivate competitors, and a target cue. As predicted by the inhibitory-control account, competitors with strong compared to weak cue-competitor association were more susceptible to forgetting. Furthermore, competition-sensitive ERP modulations, elicited by the category cue, were observed over anterior regions and reflected individual differences in ensuing forgetting. The present study demonstrates ERP correlates of the reactivation of tightly bound associated memories (the competitors) and provides support for the inhibitory-control account of retrieval-induced forgetting.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1619-1629
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Psychology


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