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Lustig, C., & Hasher, L. (2001). Interference. In G. Maddox (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Aging, 3rd Edition (pp. 553-555). New York: Springer-Verlag.


Excerpt from Chapter: Interference is a generic term used to describe disruptive effects of three sources of irrelevant information: concurrent distractors, currently irrelevant memories, and strong but situationally inappropriate responses. All three sources tend to slow correct responding and reduce accuracy. In general, older adults are more susceptible to each source of interference (Hasher, Zacks & May, 1999; McDowd, Oseas-Kreger & Filion, 1995)

Interference in memory is traditionally studied using lists of unrelated word pairs in which one element arbitrarily serves as the cue (stimulus) for recall of the other (response). At test, participants are given one of these words (the stimulus word) and asked to remember the other (the response word). Interference can be created by pairing the stimulus word with additional response words in a list presented either before (PI) or after (RI) the to-be-remembered list.

Older adults show greater competition from irrelevant information even when explicitly instructed to forget such information, as in directed forgetting studies. Successful directed forgetting is demonstrated by lower memory for "forget" items and greater memory for "remember" items, compared to conditions in which all studied items are to be remembered. Relative to younger adults, older adults remember more "forget" items as a proportion of the total number of items recalled and are more likely to intrude "forget" items when trying to recall "remember" word (Zacks, Radvansky & Hasher, 1996).

In general, then, older adults are more vulnerable than younger adults to interference from concurrent distractors, from currently irrelevant memories, and from strong but inappropriate habitual responses. Age differences in interference proness may contribute to age differences on many tasks, including those measuring working memory (May, Hasher & Kane, 1999; McDowd, Oseas-Kreger, & Filion, 1995). In some cases, reducing the role of interference in a task can reduce or even eliminate age differences in performance (e.g., May et al., 1999; Radvansky, Zacks, & Hasher, 1996). Finally, recent work has shown that some age differences in interference can be exaggerated when participants are tested in the afternoon, rather than the morning, a finding tied to age differences in circadian arousal (May, 1999).

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