Intentional Suppression of Unwanted Memories Grows More Difficult as We Age

Michael C. Anderson, Julia Reinholz, Brice A. Kuhl, Ulrich Mayr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People often encounter reminders to memories that they would prefer not to think about. When this happens, they often try to exclude the unwanted memory from awareness, a process that relies upon inhibitory control. We propose that the ability to regulate awareness of unwanted memories through inhibition declines with advancing age. In two experiments, we examined younger and older adults' ability to intentionally suppress retrieval when repeatedly confronted with reminders to an experience they were instructed to not think about. Older adults exhibited significantly less forgetting of the suppressed items compared to younger adults on a later independent probe test of recall, indicating that older adults failed to inhibit the to-be-avoided memories. These findings demonstrate that the ability to intentionally regulate conscious awareness of unwanted memories through inhibitory control declines with age, highlighting differences in memory control that may be of clinical relevance in the aftermath of unpleasant life events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)397-405
Number of pages9
JournalPsychology and aging
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Emotion regulation
  • Executive control
  • Forgetting
  • Inhibition
  • Memory control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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