Inducing amnesia through systemic suppression

18 Sep 2017

Hippocampal damage profoundly disrupts the ability to store new memories of life events. Amnesic windows might also occur in healthy people due to disturbed hippocampal function arising during mental processes that systemically reduce hippocampal activity. Intentionally suppressing memory retrieval (retrieval stopping) reduces hippocampal activity via control mechanisms mediated by the lateral prefrontal cortex. Here we show that when people suppress retrieval given a reminder of an unwanted memory, they are considerably more likely to forget unrelated experiences from periods surrounding suppression. This amnesic shadow follows a dose-response function, becomes more pronounced after practice suppressing retrieval, exhibits characteristics indicating disturbed hippocampal function, and is predicted by reduced hippocampal activity. These findings indicate that stopping retrieval engages a suppression mechanism that broadly compromises hippocampal processes and that hippocampal stabilization processes can be interrupted strategically. Cognitively triggered amnesia constitutes an unrecognized forgetting process that may account for otherwise unexplained memory lapses following trauma.