We’ve all done it. In fact, I did it just last week. When walking to my car after class, I got to the space on College Avenue where I had parked earlier that morning, and it was gone. After a brief moment of panicking and wondering if I had parked illegally and been towed, I realized that the reason my car wasn’t there was because I had parked it further down the street and forgotten. Why would I have thought that my car was parked in one place instead of another? Simple: Proactive Interference.
Proactive Interference refers to the inability to remember new information due to interference by old information. In this case, I was unable to remember where I had parked my car because old information about where I had parked it previously was interfering. Not being able to find my car is just one of many instances where proactive interference can occur. Ever try to get into a new locker using last year’s code? Or have you ever had difficulty remembering when your appointment for next week is because you can only recall this week’s appointment time?Proactive interference is prevalent in our day to day lives, and while it isn’t necessarily harmful, it can be a nuisance. For me, it meant having to walk the other direction clear to the other end of College Ave., making me late for meeting a friend.
So how do we overcome this problem? Research published in 2010 found that individuals who have prior experience with proactive interference and were given feedback have the best chance of overcoming it later on. For one experiment, participants were split into two groups. Both groups were given practice rounds for learning word pairs. Each were then asked to recall the proper word pairs and give a confidence estimate about how correct they believed they were. The first groups received no corrective feedback following the confidence rating and was immediately given a new word pair. The second group, however, received corrective feedback after each confidence rating. At the end of the first round, the second group was told how many total ‘points’ they had earned for that round before moving on to round two.
The group that received corrective feedback and was told their point total was able to more effectively avoid problems with proactive interference – even when the task difficulty was upped in a second experiment! So what does this mean for us? While we don’t live in a lab situation where someone can give us corrective feedback 24/7, we can be more conscious in situations we know this tends to happen in. For me, I now make an effort whenever I park in the morning or re-park in the afternoon to take note of exactly where I parked so I’m not just going off old information later.
Research can be found at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3030918/