Abstract A series of studies investigated the conditions under which normal and educable mentally retarded adolescents (13 to 15 years old) would or would not disregard irrelevant information in memory. A directed forgetting task was used in which the person was required to recall short sequences of picture names. In some sequences there was a cue to forget the first few pictures (irrelevant information) and to remember only the subsequent pictures (relevant information). When normal adolescents were given no explanation of the forget cue, there was interference from the irrelevant information. A minimum explanation of the cue, however, was sufficient to eliminate interference for the normal adolescents. The same minimal explanation was not sufficient for mentally retarded adolescents. It was clear that irrelevant information in memory interfered with the performance of retarded adolescents given only a minimal explanation of the forget cue. These results are important since most naturalistic situations do not involve an elaborate explanation of the importance of disregarding irrelevant information previously stored in memory.