Memory Inhibition as a Critical Factor Preventing Creative Problem Solving

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The hypothesis that reduced accessibility to relevant information can negatively affect problem solving in a remote associate test (RAT) was tested by using, immediately before the RAT, a retrieval practice procedure to hinder access to target solutions. The results of 2 experiments clearly showed that, relative to baseline, target words that had been competitors during selective retrieval were much less likely to be provided as solutions in the RAT, demonstrating that performance in the problem-solving task was strongly influenced by the predetermined accessibility status of the solutions in memory. Importantly, this was so even when participants were unaware of the relationship between the memory and the problem-solving procedures in the experiments. This finding is consistent with an inhibitory account of retrieval-induced forgetting effects and, more generally, constitutes support for the idea that the activation status of mental representations originating in a given task (e.g., episodic memory) can unwittingly have significant consequences for a different, unrelated task (e.g., problem solving).

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