Proactive vs Retroactive Interference: Difference and Comparison

The principle of interference describes why we forget stuff. When we try to recall information from our long-term memory, one recollection may conflict with another.

Things we’ve learned in the past might sometimes get in the way of new learning, and new knowledge can also get in the way of old learning.

This form of intervention is referred to as proactive or retroactive interference. It’s also worth noting that proactive and retroactive interference is more likely to occur when recollections are comparable.

Key Takeaways

  1. Proactive interference occurs when old memories interfere with the formation or recall of new memories, while retroactive interference happens when new memories disrupt the recall of old memories.
  2. Proactive interference can make it difficult to learn new information when it is similar to previously learned material, whereas retroactive interference can cause confusion between old and new information.
  3. Both proactive and retroactive interference highlight the complex nature of memory storage and retrieval and may impact learning and memory performance in various situations.

Proactive vs Retroactive Interference

Interference of old memory with new memory is called proactive interference. Proactive interference is not common. It is difficult for a person to learn new things because of proactive interference. Interference of new memory with old memory is called retroactive interference. It is very common in people. It can be problematic.

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Proactive interference is the condition that happens when a person tries to learn a piece of new information or a new task, but it becomes difficult to learn due to the old information or old task that he or she has learned in the past.

This happens when the old memory of certain information or the task is embedded strongly in mind due to repeated encounters with the situation.

Retroactive interference is the condition that occurs when a person struggles with remembering the task that they have learned.

This is just the opposite of proactive interference. In simple terms, retroactive interference is when the new memories interfere in remembering the old memories or the task in the past.

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Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonProactive InterferenceRetroactive Interference
DefinitionIt is the condition when old memory interferes with the new memory.It is a condition when new memory interferes with the old memory.
ContextProactive interference is when the knowledge on a certain topic interferes with the new knowledge a person tries to learn or gain.Retroactive interference is when new memories or knowledge make it difficult to remember old memories or knowledge.
PopularityIt is less common.It is more common
EffectIt is less problematic.It is more problematic
StudyIt is studied through “Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging”.It is studied through “Magnetoencephalography”.

What is Proactive Interference?

Proactive interference occurs when a person finds it difficult to learn new information or perform a new task because of previous knowledge or tasks.

To put it another way, the old memory interferes with the new memory. This sort of interference is far less widespread and less troublesome than the previous one.

The most common treatment for proactive interference is hypnosis, which aids in clearing or erasing a specific experience from a person’s history that produces the problem in their mind.

This is not a serious medical condition, as many individuals will come across it in their daily lives.

Working memory capacity is a factor that determines how proactive a person’s brain is. Working memory is a type of cognitive system with a limited ability to recall information or memories for a short time.

There are a variety of situations in which a person acquires knowledge, which can be either negative or beneficial. If an unpleasant memory has a big impact on a person’s mind, it is more difficult for them to forget it.

It is claimed that having a healthy mind leads to a healthy and happy life, which is extremely true. Although proactive meddling isn’t always harmful, it can be dangerous when a person is having trouble remembering events from the past.

This imbalance can cause abnormalities in a person’s brain.

What is Retroactive Inteference?

Retroactive interference occurs when a person has difficulty recalling an old task or knowledge as a result of learning a new activity or knowledge.

In layman’s terms, new memories obstruct old recollections. Retroactive inhibition is another term that can be used in place of retroactive interference.

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When people learn new things or acquire new knowledge, they immediately forget old memories learned in the past. When a person hasn’t practiced a skill or knowledge for a long time, he or she finds themselves in this circumstance.

It is a more prevalent occurrence in the population and a more serious sort of interference.

Retroactive interference was first described by Muller and was considered a classic paradigm. It is proven by the retention interval being filled.

The retention interval is the amount of time between the first learning stage and the memory recall stage that has an impact on the predominantly learned things.

The retroactive interference is concentrated in the left anterior prefrontal cortex (PC). Magnetoencephalography (MEG) is used to investigate it.

MEG is a brain mapping technology that uses magnetic fields produced by electrical current that occurs naturally in the human brain to map the brain.

Main Differences Between Proactive and Retroactive Interference

  1. Proactive interference is the situation when the old memories interfere with the new memories; however retroactive interference is a situation when the new memories interfere with the old memories.
  2. In proactive interference, existing knowledge on a certain topic interferes with the new knowledge a person tries to learn or gain. On the other hand, retroactive interference is when new memories or knowledge make it difficult to remember old memories or knowledge.
  3. Proactive interference is less common among the population, but retroactive interference is more common among the population.
  4. Proactive interference is less problematic. However, retroactive interference is more problematic.
  5. Proactive interference can be studied through fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). On the other hand, retroactive interference can be studied through MEG (Magnetoencephalography).

Last Updated : 25 November, 2023

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