Differential effects of proactive and retroactive interference in value-directed remembering for younger and older adults
Dillon H. Murphy & Alan D. Castel
We are often presented with more information than we can remember, and we must selectively focus on the most valuable information to maximize memory utility. Most tests of value-based memory involve encoding and then being tested on a list of recently studied information. Thus, people are focused on memory for the current list and are encouraged to forget information from earlier lists. However, prior learning can influence later memory, in both interfering and beneficial ways, and there may be age-related differences in how younger and older adults are influenced by the costs and benefits of prior learning and interference. In the current study, we presented younger and older adults with words paired with point values to remember for a later test but rather than asking participants to only recall words from the just-studied list, participants were asked to recall all studied words on each recall test. Results revealed that younger adults were more likely to recall words from previous lists than older adults, indicating that older adults were more susceptible to retroactive interference. Moreover, although selectivity is often preserved in older adults when study-test cycles are independent, a buildup of proactive interference arising from previously studied words reduced memory selectivity in older adults. Thus, when presented with more information than one can remember, younger adults are better at combating interference and recalling valuable information, while older adults may engage in selective forgetting of prior lists to enhance a “present-focused” form of memory, possibly as a result of impaired inhibitory control.