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Lustig, C., May, C. P., & Hasher, L. (2001). Working memory span and the role of proactive interference. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130, 199-207.


We investigated the possibility that working memory span tasks (thought to measure the capacity to simultaneously store and manipulate information and to predict performance on other measures on this basis) are influenced by interference and that interference, not capacity, drives the correlation between span and other measures. Younger and older adults received the span task either in the standard format or a format designed to reduce the impact of interference. Participants then read and recalled a short prose passage. Reducing the amount of interference in the span task raised span scores and eliminated age differences in span, replicating previous results (May, Hasher, & Kane, 1999). The same interference-reducing manipulations that raised span scores eliminated the relation between span and prose recall. These results suggest that span tasks are influenced by interference, that age differences in span may be due to differences in the ability to overcome interference rather than to differences in capacity, and that interference plays an important role in the relation between span and other tasks.

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