Benjamin Storm


Our research focuses broadly on human memory with a special focus on the causes and consequences of forgetting.  We are particularly interested in the role of forgetting in resolving competition during retrieval, overcoming fixation in thinking and problem solving, updating autobiographical memory, and facilitating new learning.  We believe that developing a more complete understanding of how people learn, think, and remember requires a more complete understanding of how and why we forget.

Causes and Consequences of Forgetting in Human Memory

When attempting to retrieve a target item, non-target items associated with the same retrieval cue can become activated, creating competition, and requiring that the items causing that competition be selected against, or inhibited.  This inhibition may explain a rather unintuitive observation—that retrieving some items from memory causes the forgetting of other items in memory, a phenomenon known as retrieval-induced forgetting (Anderson, Bjork, & Bjork, 1994).  Our research has sought to elucidate the mechanisms underlying retrieval-induced forgetting and explore its potential role in memory and other cognitive and psychological contexts (for reviews, see Murayama, Miyatsu, Buchli, & Storm, 2014; Storm, 2011a; 2011b; Storm, Angello, Buchli, Koppel, Little, & Nestojko, 2015; Storm & Levy, 2012).  We are also interested in other forms of goal-directed forgetting, such as memory suppression and directed forgetting (e.g., Angello, Storm, & Smith, 2015; Storm, Bjork, & Bjork, 2007; Storm, Koppel, & Wilson, 2013), as well as the ways in which memory interacts with technology, (e.g., Storm & Stone, 2015).

Creative Cognition

Some have argued that inhibition acts to limit or constrain creativity.  There are instances, however, in which inhibition has the power to enhance creativity.  Many creative tasks are difficult because old and inappropriate ideas cause mental fixation, preventing the generation of new and useful ideas (see e.g., Smith, 2003).  Our research suggests that inhibition, and forgetting more generally, can facilitate creative cognition by providing a means by which to overcome fixation (e.g., Angello, Storm, & Smith, 2015; Koppel & Storm, 2012; 2014; Storm & Angello, 2010; Storm, Angello, & Bjork, 2011; Storm & Patel, 2014).  In new work, we are exploring the mechanisms that determine whether we remember or forget our own creative ideas (Ditta & Storm, in prep) and the factors that influence the metacognitive assessments we make about our creative abilities (Storm & Hickman, 2015).  We are also interested in the mechanisms and applications of episodic future thinking, a cognitive process that we believe to be a critical and goal-directed instantiation of creative cognition (Ditta & Storm, in press; Storm & Jobe, 2012).

Memory, Metamemory, and Learning

In educational contexts, students and teachers tend to create conditions of learning that facilitate effortless acquisition and high levels of immediate performance.  After a delay, however,  these conditions are clearly not as effective as they appear to be (Bjork, 1994, 1999).  The crux of the problem seems to lie in people’s view of forgetting as the undoing of learning, rather than as a critical component of learning.  Research has shown that manipulations that induce forgetting between learning opportunities often lead to better long-term retention than manipulations that prevent forgetting.  In this line of research, we are exploring the mechanisms by which forgetting, difficulty, and uncertainty enable new learning.  Specific issues under investigation include spacing, generation, testing, mind wandering, and highlighting, as well as metamemory considerations related to learning (e.g., Bjork, Little, & Storm, 2014; Bjork & Storm, 2011; Little, Storm & Bjork, 2011; Overoye & Storm, 2015; Storm, Bjork, & Storm, 2010; Storm & Bui, 2015; Storm, Friedman, Murayama, & Bjork, 2014; Yue, Storm, Kornell, & Bjork, 2015).

Benjamin Storm