Talk by Prof. Dr. Roland G. Benoit Max-Planck Institute Leipzig

Intentional forgetting of unwanted memories

Unpleasant experiences often turn into memories that involuntarily intrude into awareness. In
this presentation, I will first highlight the neurocognitive mechanisms that allow us to
intentionally suppress such unwanted memories. Notably, suppression has lingering after effects:
it weakens the avoided memory and eventually causes forgetting. I will show recent evidence
that this weakening is caused by a sustained disruption of the memories’ neural reinstatement.
However, though suppression induces forgetting in healthy individuals, I will present metaanalytical
evidence that it is deficient in individuals with emotional disorders that are
characterized by intrusive thought. Finally, I will provide evidence that a mechanism that
suppresses memories of the past can also be employed to control our fears of the future.
Together, this presentation thus demonstrates that suppression causes forgetting, elucidates its
neural basis, and highlights its clinical relevance.