Focusing the search: Proactive and retroactive interference and the dynamics of free recall

Nash Unsworth, Gene Brewer, Gregory J. Spillers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Targeting information in long-term memory is an important cognitive ability, but one that is not well understood. In this study, 4 experiments were conducted to examine the influence of proactive and retroactive interference on memory targeting. Participants were given either 1 or 2 lists and asked to recall List 1, List 2, or in some cases both lists. Multiple dependent measures were explored including the proportion of items recalled, number of intrusions output, and recall latency to arbitrate between 4 extant accounts of memory targeting. In general, recalling either List 1 or List 2 resulted in lower probability of recall, recall of more intrusions, and longer recall latencies compared to when recalling a list alone, suggesting both proactive and retroactive interference. These results suggest that long-term memory targeting is guided by noisy temporal-contextual cues (unless other salient cues are present) that activate both relevant and irrelevant memoranda that are then subjected to a postretrieval monitoring process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1742-1756
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • Interference
  • Memory search
  • Recall dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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