Proactive Interference and the Dynamics of Free Recall

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buildup of & release from proactive interference, free recall latency distributions

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Proactive interference (PI) has long been recognized as a major cause of forgetting. Two experiments were conducted that offer another look at the subject by providing a detailed analysis of recall latency distributions during the buildup of and release from PI. These functions were accurately characterized by the convolution of the normal and exponential distributions (viz., the ex-Gaussian), which previously has been shown to describe recognition latency distributions. Further, the fits revealed that the increase in recall latency associated with the buildup of PI results from a slowing of the exponential retrieval stage only. The same result was found even when a short retention interval was used (and recall probability remained constant). These findings suggest that free-recall latency may be a sensitive index of the increased search set size that has often been assumed to accompany the buildup of PI.

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Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, v. 19, issue 5, p. 1024-1039