Intentional forgetting K. van Schie & M.A. van den Hout

Forgetting has historically been considered a process that refl ects decay or interference, which suggests that forgetting is something that simply happens. Sometimes, people are motivated to forget, specifi cally when memories are unwanted. Therefore, recently, research has focused on “intentional forgetting”. We review literature on forgetting starting with Freud’s controversial claim of repression, and continue with empirical results from Wegner’s white bear experiments. Subsequently we review fi ndings from directed forgetting, retrieval induced forgetting, and suppression induced forgetting paradigms, which show that intentional forgetting is possible. We discuss a potential mechanism underlying intentional forgetting – inhibitory control – and address practical implications.

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Is expres niet aan een witte beer denken mogelijk? Zou dat zoiets zijn als Freudiaans verdringen? Daar gaat dit artikel over, in het bijzonder of mensen expres bepaalde herinneringen kunnen vergeten. Kevin van Schie en Marcel van den Hout bespreken verschillende experimenten die laten zien dat mensen daartoe in staat zijn, gevolgd door verklaringen van het fenomeen en enige praktische implicaties.

Van de dingen die we meemaken, vergeten we er veel. Dat heeft iets praktisch: wie de inkopen van afgelopen jaar dag voor dag zou herinneren, zou in de war raken. Dat vergeten gaat vanzelf. Maar kunnen we ook doelbewust en weloverwogen zaken vergeten? Van de voorvallen die we meemaken zijn er een aantal vervelend. En het terugdenken eraan ook. Als we in staat zouden zijn die akelige gebeurtenissen te wissen, of ontoegankelijk te maken, dan mag verwacht worden dat mensen op enige schaal gebruik maken van zo’n vermogen.

Het freudiaanse gedachtengoed suggereert dat mensen inderdaad in staat zijn tot ‘verdringing’: het buiten het bewustzijn brengen of houden van, onder meer, onplezierige herinneringen (Freud, 1915/1957)28. Individuen zouden verdringing weliswaar niet weloverwogen inzetten, maar het zou wel degelijk gaan om ‘gemotiveerd vergeten’. Het idee dat verdringing bestaat en na het meemaken van nare gebeurtenissen op schaal van betekenis optreedt, wordt aangehangen door een fikse meerderheid van rechters


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