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Inhibition in long-term memory

Hanczakowski, Maciej


Maciej Hanczakowski


Giuliana Mazzoni

William J. (William Jonathan) McGeown


The present thesis examined the issue of inhibitory processes in long-term memory. Several theoretical frameworks, which posit various loci of an inhibitory mechanism, have been examined. The locus of an inhibitory mechanism was investigated within the retrieval practice paradigm, in which inhibition is recruited against information that competes for memory access during retrieval, and within the list-method directed forgetting paradigm, in which inhibition is voluntarily recruited.

Experiments 1-8, with a total of 315 participants tested, focused on the cue-independence of forgetting in the retrieval practice paradigm. Experiments 1, 2, 4, 7, and 8 provided no evidence for the cue-independence. Although forgetting was documented when memory was tested with original cues (Experiments 1, 2, 3, 6), it failed to emerge with independent cues that were semantically related to several items in the memory set (Experiments 1 and 2), that were semantically related to individual items in the memory set (Experiments 2, 4, and 8), and that were only episodically related to individual items (Experiment 7). These findings do not support the theory of inhibition operating at the level of semantic features. Further, no support was obtained for the prediction that a broad spectrum of episodic associations established for interfering information is affected by inhibition (Experiments 4 and 7). Finally, the prediction of a constrained episodic account, according to which only the associative link directly responsible for interference is affected by an inhibitory mechanism, was assessed in Experiment 8. This hypothesis also did not gain empirical support.

Experiments 9-11, with a total of 141 participants tested, focused on the list-method directed forgetting paradigm. Within this paradigm two hypotheses about the locus of inhibitory processes were tested. Predictions of the retrieval inhibition account, which postulates the general effect of inhibition on all episodic associations created during study, where contrasted with predictions of a constrained inhibitory model, according to which only episodic links directly responsible for interference are affected by inhibition. Experiments 10 and 11 did not provide support for the retrieval inhibition account, thus favouring a more constrained framework.

Together, the results of the present experiments can be interpreted in two ways. They can be used to specify an inhibitory mechanism as one of associative unlearning, operating only on the associations that are the cause of interference which needs to be resolved by inhibition (but see Experiment 8). Alternatively, the present results can be used to argue that the concept of inhibition is not needed to account for forgetting in the examined paradigms.


Hanczakowski, M. (2012). Inhibition in long-term memory. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Dec 14, 2012
Publicly Available Date Feb 22, 2023
Keywords Psychology
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Psychology, The University of Hull
Award Date Jul 1, 2012


Thesis (1.4 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2012 Hanczakowski, Maciej. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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