Intentionally forgetting other-race faces: costs and benefits?

Ryan J. Fitzgerald, Heather L. Price, Chris Oriet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Eyewitnesses to events with multiple actors might be aware that during a subsequent investigation some actors will need to be remembered and others can be forgotten. Research on the directed-forgetting procedure suggests that when some information is cued to be forgotten, retention of other information is enhanced. In three experiments, directed-forgetting conditions were compared with control conditions to assess potential costs and benefits of forgetting other-race faces. In Experiment 1, undergraduate students (N = 148; mostly Caucasian) viewed all Black faces or all Asian faces followed by overt remember or forget cues. Participants in the directed-forgetting conditions of Experiments 2 and 3 received more covert cues instructing them to remember the faces of one race and to forget the faces of another race. In Experiment 2, undergraduate students (N = 116; all Caucasian) viewed Black and Asian faces within the context of a criminal storyline. In Experiment 3, undergraduate students (N = 94; all Caucasian) again viewed Black and Asian faces; however, the remember and forget cues were embedded in a noncriminal narrative. Although faces generally were forgotten on cue, forgetting some faces did not enhance memory for other faces. Furthermore, recognition of remember-cued faces was impaired by exposure to forget-cued faces. These findings indicate that faces can be forgotten on cue, but that doing so confers no benefit for remembering other faces. Eyewitnesses are advised that exposure to irrelevant faces reduces the likelihood that relevant faces will be remembered, even when effort is allocated to forgetting the irrelevant faces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)130-142
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013
Externally publishedYes


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