Mnemic Neglect

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Mnemic [nee-meeneglect (MN) is a term used in social psychology to describe a pattern of selective forgetting, in which people tend to be poorer at recalling information that is negative with their self-concept, while being unimpaired at recalling information that is positive with their self-concept.

It is proposed that MN arises as a result of a number of underlying motives, such as self-enhancement (the maintenance of self-enhancement).

Empirical studies have demonstrated that when participants are asked to recall items of positive and negative information from a list, MN only occurred if the information was directed at the individual – recall for positive and negative items was unaffected if it was about another person. Originally called the ‘Inconsistency-negativity Neglect model,’ the current term offers an explanation of how information about the self is processed in memory. In basic terms, individuals are motivated to maintain a positive self concept, thus are prone to neglecting to process information that is inconsistent with it. Furthermore, whether the information is about a central (more important) or peripheral (less important) aspect of the self modulates the effect of mnemic neglect (i.e. , negative information is more likely to be neglected when it refers to a central aspect of the self rather than a peripheral one.

MN has been linked to existing accounts of memory, and it is theorized that the bias towards forgetting negative/inconsistent feedback is apparent at a number of stages in the memory process. It may arise at the encoding stage due to a bias in which positive/consistent information is more likely to be attended to, and negative/consistent information is selectively avoided, thus is less likely to be encoded (selective attention).

MN could also be evident at the retrieval stage, in which positive/consistent information is more readily available than negative/inconsistent information, thus facilitating or impairing recall respectively. Numerous studies demonstrate that desirable memories are more frequently recalled than undesirable ones. The retention stage has also been implicated, as it is shown that the affect associated with negative memories diminishes quicker (thus retained for less time) than that of positive memories (Fading Affect Bias). This suggests a bias towards remembering positive information, which could also extend to memories pertaining to the self when considering MN.

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