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Journal Article

Direct suppression as a mechanism of controlling unpleasant memories in daily life

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Küpper, C. S., Benoit, R. G., Dalgleish, T., & Anderson, M. C. (2014). Direct suppression as a mechanism of controlling unpleasant memories in daily life. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(4), 1443-1449. doi:10.1037/a0036518.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002B-7C88-2
Suppressing unwanted memories can impair their later recall. Recent work shows that this forgetting is achieved by at least two mechanisms supported by distinct neural systems: thought substitution and direct suppression (Benoit & Anderson, 2012). Here, we examined whether direct suppression, thought to be achieved by down-regulation of hippocampal activity, can disrupt memory of aversive scenes, and, if so, whether this disruption is linked to people’s perception of their ability to control intrusive thoughts. We presented participants with strong naturalistic reminders to aversive scenes and asked them to either covertly retrieve or directly suppress the associated scenes. Later, participants were cued with the reminders and asked to recall the scenes in detail. Direct suppression reduced recall probability of the scenes and also reduced the number of details recalled, even when scenes were remembered. Deficits in recall arose for minor details but also for details central to each scene’s gist. Participants with higher self-perceived control abilities over intrusive thoughts showed greater forgetting than did those reporting lower levels of control. These findings suggest that inhibitory processes underlying direct suppression can disrupt retention of aversive visual memories and link those processes to individual differences in control over intrusive thoughts in everyday life. These findings reinforce the possibility that inhibition may be less efficient in people likely to acquire posttraumatic stress disorder in the wake of a traumatic experience.