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Blocked vs. interleaved presentation and proactive interference in episodic memory

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Although a number of theoretical accounts of proactive interference (PI) in episodic memory have been proposed, existing empirical evidence does not support conclusively a single view yet. In two experiments we tested the predictions of the temporal discrimination theory of PI against alternative accounts by manipulating the presentation schedule of study materials (lists blocked by category vs. interleaved). In line with the temporal discrimination theory, we observed a clear buildup of (and release from) PI in the blocked condition, in which all the lists of the same category were presented sequentially. In the interleaved condition, with alternating lists of different categories, a more gradual and smoother buildup of PI was observed. When participants were left free to choose their presentation schedule, they spontaneously adopted an interleaved schedule, resulting again in more gradual PI. After longer delays, we observed recency effects at the list level in overall recall and, in the blocked condition, PI-related effects. The overall pattern of findings agrees with the predictions of the temporal discrimination theory of PI, complemented with categorical processing of list items, but not with alternative accounts, shedding light on the dynamics and underpinnings of PI under diverse presentation schedules and over different time scales.
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Keywords: Proactive interference; blocking; episodic memory; individual differences; interleaving; temporal discrimination

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden 2: Department of Life Sciences, University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy 3: Department of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences, University of Trento, Trento, Italy

Publication date: May 28, 2018

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