How forgetting aids heuristic inference

Lael J. Schooler, Ralph Hertwig

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

265 Scopus citations


Some theorists, ranging from W. James (1890) to contemporary psychologists, have argued that forgetting is the key to proper functioning of memory. The authors elaborate on the notion of beneficial forgetting by proposing that loss of information aids inference heuristics that exploit mnemonic information. To this end, the authors bring together 2 research programs that take an ecological approach to studying cognition. Specifically, they implement fast and frugal heuristics within the ACT-R cognitive architecture. Simulations of the recognition heuristic, which relies on systematic failures of recognition to infer which of 2 objects scores higher on a criterion value, demonstrate that forgetting can boost accuracy by increasing the chances that only 1 object is recognized. Simulations of the fluency heuristic, which arrives at the same inference on the basis of the speed with which objects are recognized, indicate that forgetting aids the discrimination between the objects' recognition speeds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)610-628
Number of pages19
JournalPsychological review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Fluency
  • Forgetting
  • Heuristic
  • Memory
  • Recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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