Much research on memory function has focused on changes in recognition performance brought about by differences in the processes engaged during encoding. In most of this work, participants either receive explicit instructions to remember particular items or they perform orienting (i.e., encoding) tasks that support different levels of memory performance. In daily life, however, the retention or dismissal of information often occurs without conscious intent, thereby suggesting an alternative, nonconscious route through which purposive remembering and forgetting can occur. Based on this line of reasoning, we speculated that recognition performance in a standard item-based forgetting paradigm may be moderated by subliminal cues that trigger the automatic activation of different mnemonic strategies. We report the results of two experiments that supported this prediction. In each experiment, the basic item-based forgetting effect was replicated, but via the subliminal presentation of "remember'' and "forget'' cues. In addition, cue-dependent differences in memory performance were traced to the operation of a covert rehearsal mechanism during encoding. We consider the implications of these findings for the nonconscious operation of memory processes in everyday life.
- brain activity