Proactive and Retroactive Interference: Definition and Examples - Deepstash
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Proactive and Retroactive Interference

Proactive and Retroactive Interference

The term interference is used to explain why people forget long-term memories. There are two forms of interference: proactive interference, in which old memories disrupt the retrieval of new memories, and retroactive interference, in which new memories disrupt the retrieval and maintenance of old memories.


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Interference Theory

Interference Theory

Interference theory is one of several theories that explain why we forget. It posits that memories compete, which means one memory may interfere with another when an individual is trying to retrieve information from long-term memory.

For example, if you go to the movies on a regular basis, you may have trouble remembering who you went to a given film with. Each time you go to the movie theater, the experience is similar. Therefore, different memories of going to the movie theater may become confused in your mind because they are so much alike.


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Proactive Interference

Proactive Interference

Proactive interference happens when an individual is unable to learn new information because old information prevents its retrieval. In other words, old memories interfere with the retrieval of new memories. Older memories are often more strongly encoded in long-term memory because the individual has had more time to revisit and rehearse them. As a result, they are easier to recall than memories that were made more recently. 

Research has shown that one way to reduce proactive interference is to rehearse the new information through testing or recitation.


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Retroactive Interference

Retroactive Interference

Retroactive interference happens when an individual is unable to recall old information because new information prevents its retrieval. In other words, new memories interfere with the retrieval of old memories.

Retroactive interference has been shown to disrupt learning.


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The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line

There is a great deal of research backing up the effects of proactive and retroactive interference. However, there are some issues with the theory. Most studies on interference theory take place in a lab using word memory tasks that are presented fairly close together. In real life, people rarely perform word memory tasks, much less with only a little bit of time between them. As a result, many of the studies of proactive and retroactive interference may not be generalizable to the real world.


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