How to Be Proactive About Interference: Lessons From Animal Memory

Anthony A. Wright, Jeffrey S. Katz, Wei Ji Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Processes of proactive interference were explored using the pigeon as a model system of memory. This study shows that proactive interference extends back in time at least 16 trials (and as many minutes), revealing a continuum of interference and providing a framework for studying memory. Pigeons were tested in a delayed same/different task containing trial-unique pictures. On interference trials, sample pictures from previous trials reappeared as test pictures on different trials. Proactive-interference functions showed greatest interference from the most recent trial and with the longer of two delays (10 s vs. 1 s). These interference functions are accounted for by a time-estimation model based on signal detection theory. The model predicts that accuracy at test is determined solely by the ratio of the elapsed time since the offset of the current-trial sample to the elapsed time since the offset of the interfering sample. Implications for comparing memory of different species and different types of memory (e.g., familiarity vs. recollection) are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)453-458
Number of pages6
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2012


  • cognitive processes
  • comparative psychology
  • memory
  • signal detection theory
  • time perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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