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Detecting accelerated long-term forgetting: A problem and some solutions

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/09/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Cortex
Volume142
Number of pages15
Pages (from-to)237-251
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date1/07/21
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

While many memory disorders occur with normal rates of forgetting, an accelerated rate of long-term forgetting (ALF) may occur, sometimes in the absence of a learning deficit. Detecting ALF presents a problem as it is desirable that the learned material is re-tested after each of several delays. This may result in earlier retrievals confounding later tests, with evidence suggesting that both positive and negative interaction can occur between successive tests. An earlier study (Baddeley et al., 2019) tested cued recall of a series of four crimes or four visual scenes by probing a different sample of features from all four crimes/scenes at each delay. Even though no question was asked twice, the interpolated tests markedly reduced the rate of forgetting. We suggest that this decelerated forgetting effect may result from the retrieval of probed features activating other associated features within that episode, hence facilitating their recall on subsequent tests. If so, the effect should be removed when only single and separate episodes, or individual items, are tested at each delay. We test this by probing a separate episode at each delay (Experiment 1), or by replacing integrated episodes with recognition memory for isolated words (Experiments 2 and 3) or visual scenes (Experiments 4 and 5). As predicted, we find no reduction in the rate of forgetting, in contrast to our earlier studies. The theoretical and clinical implications of our results are discussed. We conclude that the previously developed Crimes and Four Doors Tests (Baddeley et al., 2019) and the present single item recognition tests are complementary and are both likely to be necessary to ensure the reliable detection of ALF.