GERNSBACHER, M. A. (2001). Learning to suppress competing information: Do the skills transfer? U.S Army Research Institute. [view PDF]
This proposal sought funds to continue to conduct laboratory research on the cognitive mechanism of suppression. Suppression is conceptualized as an active dampening of the automatic activation of mental representations. Thus, suppression attenuates the interference caused by the activation of inappropriate or irrelevant information. In my previous research (much of which was supported by previous ARI funds), I have empirically illustrated the crucial role that suppression plays in many cognitive tasks. Furthermore, during a previous funding period I discovered that (1) the mechanism of suppression is under strategic control, and (2) persons can be taught to suppress competing information. The next stage of research greatly extended these two recent discoveries by answering the following question: Does training in suppression of one type of competing information transfer to skill in suppressing another type of competing information? This question was answered through a series of laboratory experiments. The results of these experiments inform us about the transferability of training of the crucial skill of suppression. Discovering that training in suppression in one domain leads to improved suppression in another domain has great theoretical and practical implications. At the theoretical level, discovering that training in suppression in one domain leads to improved suppression in another domain supports the hypothesis of one general, cognitive mechanism of suppression. At the practical level, discovering that training in suppression in one domain leads to improved suppression in another domain demonstrates that persons’ ability to suppress information can be improved, even without specific training in the domain in which suppression is required.