ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2019, Vol. 51 ›› Issue (4): 450-461.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2019.00450

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Influence of language and culture on retrieval-induced forgetting under the self-referential condition: Evidence from the Han and the Mosuo

WANG Bin, FU Ya, ZHANG Jijia()   

  1. Key Research Center for National Psychology and Education, the National Education Development Center of the Ministry of Education, Beijing 100872, China
  • Received:2018-04-24 Published:2019-04-25 Online:2019-02-22
  • Contact: Jijia ZHANG


Retrieval-induced forgetting (RIF) refers to the phenomenon, in which individuals may forget related information during the retrieval process whenever they try to remember something. Studies have shown that “self-reference” is one of the boundary conditions of RIF in the Western cultural context, indicating that RIF is only eliminated when the recalled materials are related to self-concept (known as the “self-referential effect”). In the Chinese culture, however, RIF was observed under the conditions of self-reference and maternal reference. The Mosuo people are raised in a matrilineal society, in which they are familiar with their mothers and aunts to the same extent. Such people consider their aunts and natural mothers as equally important. Conversely, the Han is a patriarchal society that differs considerably from the orientation of the Mosuo’s. This study aimed to explore the influence of the culture and language of the Mosuo and Han on their self-cognition and processing, especially the influence of their aunts on their self-conception.

Tested participants included 131 Mosuo and 126 Han from Yunnan’s Ninglang District. The experiment had a 2 (Nationality: the Mosuo, the Han) × 4 (Conditions: Self-reference, Mother-reference, Aunt-reference, Other-reference) × 3 (Retrieval Factor: Rp+, Rp-, or Nrp items) design. Nationality and condition were manipulated as between-subject factors, and the retrieval factor was manipulated as a within-subject factor. The study had four phases. (1) Study phase: Participants were shown Chinese characters on the monitor, with a series of 32 category exemplars in random order. They were instructed to memorize the exemplars while associating them with the paired category. (2) Retrieval-practice phase: Here, participants were sequentially presented with word-pair forms of eight cues that could probe their memory. Each cue comprised a category name and a first initial character of an exemplar. Participants were asked to recall the target exemplar in the written form in response to each cue. (3) Distractor phase: Participants were requested to perform mathematical operations within three minutes. (4) Final test phase: Participants were required to produce a written recall of as many exemplars as possible in response to each presented category name.

Results indicated that (1) in the Mosuo culture context, RIF was not observed under self-referential, mother-referential, and aunt-referential encoding, and was found only for other-referential encoding, and (2) for Han participants, RIF was observed in the aunt-referential and the other-referential encoding, but not in the self-referential and mother-referential encoding.

The present findings demonstrate that, first, in the Han and Mosuo cultures, self-reference and maternal reference are the key factors that cause RIF. Second, in the Mosuo culture, aunt-reference is another key factor that influences RIF aside from self-reference and maternal reference. Aunts who are integrated in the self-concept of the Mosuo people are also important to such individuals. Finally, (3) language and culture are crucial factors of self-formation and development.

Key words: retrieval-induced forgetting, self-referential processing, mother-referential processing, aunt-referential processing, cross-cultural research

CLC Number: