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

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. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)