Over a century ago, Freud proposed that unwanted memories can be excluded from awareness, a process called repression. It is unknown, however, how repression occurs in the brain. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify the neural systems involved in keeping unwanted memories out of awareness. Controlling unwanted memories was associated with increased dorsolateral prefrontal activation, reduced hippocampal activation, and impaired retention of those memories. Both prefrontal cortical and right hippocampal activations predicted the magnitude of forgetting. These results confirm the existence of an active forgetting process and establish a neurobiological model for guiding inquiry into motivated forgetting.
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