On being forgotten: Memory and forgetting serve as signals of interpersonal importance

Devin G Ray* (Corresponding Author), Sarah Gomillion, Andrei I Pintea, Iain Hamlin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
27 Downloads (Pure)


Our memories contain a wealth of social information – including details of past interactions, facts about others, and others’ identities. Yet, human memory is imperfect, and we often find ourselves unable to recall such information in social interactions. Conversely, people routinely find themselves on the receiving end of others’ memory failures; that is, people sometimes find themselves forgotten. Despite the apparent pervasiveness of such experiences, modern science possesses no explanatory framework for understanding the psychological impact of being forgotten in part or in whole. Here, we propose that evidence of memory in social interactions is a powerful signal of the subjective importance attached to an object of memory and that interpretation of such signals has important consequences for interpersonal relationships. We further proposed that attributional explanations for forgetting and that the closeness of the relationship between the people involved in forgetting might moderate the impact of being forgotten. We tested this framework in four studies examining the experience of being forgotten in daily life (Study 1), in experimentally controlled firsthand encounters (Study 2), and in third party perceptions of forgetting (Studies 3 and 4). Results converged to support our proposed framework as well as the moderating role of attribution. Surprisingly, we found no evidence supporting the moderating role of initial relationships closeness. These results advance a systematic model of an understudied but important phenomenon and suggest rich and varied avenues of additional exploration.
Keywords: Memory; forgetting; person memory; communication; social relationships

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-276
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date16 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

The research reported here was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, award ES/L008173/1. We wish to thank Kristina Ceslikauskaite, Katie Ramsay, Charlotte Vaassen, Kathryn Gordon, Nicolas Paul, and Jasmine Kern for their contributions to this work.


  • Communication
  • Forgetting
  • Memory
  • Person memory
  • Social relationships
  • memory
  • social relationships
  • forgetting
  • person memory
  • communication


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