Memory as a Self-Protective Mechanism



The autobiographical memory literature has established that people remember poorly unpleasant, relative to pleasant, life events. We complemented this literature with a theoretical model – the mnemic neglect model – and an experimental paradigm that exerts tight control over the to-be-remembered material. Participants recall poorly self-threatening feedback compared to self-affirming or other-relevant feedback – a phenomenon we labeled mnemic neglect. The phenomenon is motivational: it is in the service of self-protection. The phenomenon is also flexible. Participants can switch from self-protection (e.g. avoiding negative feedback) to an alternative goal (e.g. striving for feedback with improvement potential), when circumstances call for it such as when the feedback is provided by a close other rather than a stranger. Finally, self-threatening feedback may be forgotten, but it is not lost: the mnemic neglect effect is not obtained in recognition recall.