Context is important for memory. Therefore it’s not surprising that shifting your mind’s focus to another context can impair recall — or help you forget. Following on from research finding that thinking about something else blocks access to memories of the recent past, a new study has found that daydreaming about a more distant place impairs memory more compared to daydreaming about a closer place.
The study involved participants being presented with a number of words, then being asked to think either about home or their parents’ house (where they hadn’t been for several weeks) before being shown another list of words. They were then asked to recall as many words from both lists as they could. Those who had thought about home remembered more of the words from the first list than did those who had thought about their parents’ house. In another experiment, those who thought about a vacation within the U.S. remembered more words than those who thought about a vacation abroad.
The findings confirm the importance of context in recall, and point to ways in which you can manipulate your wandering thoughts to either help you remember or forget. I’d be interested to know what recall was like after a delay, however. It might be that the context effects are more pronounced in immediate recall.
(2010). Remembering to Forget.
Psychological Science. 21(7), 1036 - 1042.