Associative Interference Theory: Studying Forgetting

In this article we will learn why we forget certain concepts or memories according to the associative interference theory of Jenkins and Dällenbach.

This theory arises at a time when the phenomena of forgetting are starting to be studied, that is, it is a theory of forgetting and human memory.

Have you ever been told a lot of things in one day, and at the end of it you don’t remember any of them? Or did you just mix up the stories? Let’s see in detail why this is happening.

    Ebbinghaus oblivion curve

    The first researcher to study forgetting as a psychological process in memory paradigms was German Hermann Ebbinghaus, who did his work on forgetting and learning meaningless syllables.

    Ebbinghaus began by studying his own memory. He created 2,300 meaningless syllables (to avoid association between syllables), grouped them into lists, and noted how much he was able to remember.

    One of his conclusions was that people we forget very quickly during the first hour after learning, But that the forgetting curve (forgetting rate) softens over time.

    Ebbinghaus, with his studies, already anticipated the associative theory of interference to explain forgetting, in addition to two others:

    • The loss of fingerprint theory: Memories eroded by the passage of time.
    • The multifaceted footprint theory: Fragmentation and loss of recording components.

    Origin of the interference study

    John A. Bergström, in 1892, was the first to conduct the Interference Study. He did an experiment where he asked the subjects to sort two sets of letters with words in two piles. He observed that when the location of the second row was changed, the ranking was slower. This fact showed that the first set of classification rules interfered with the learning of the new set.

    Later in Bergström, in 1900, German psychologists Georg Müller and Pilzecker continued to study retroactive interference. It was Müller who used the term inhibition as a general term to designate retroactive and proactive inhibition.

    Finally, Jenkins and Dällenbach posed the associative theory of interference to explain forgetting; we will see it below.

    Associative theory of interference: an experimental study

    The associative theory of interference raises that forgetting is a matter of interference, inhibition or destruction of the old material by the new (Although this also happens the other way around, as we’ll see later).

    Jenkins and Dällenbach conducted an experimental study where a group of subjects had to learn a list of CVC-like words (consonant, vowel, consonant). Memory was then rated at “X” hours of sleep or wakefulness (1 hour to 8 hours).

    The results showed how the “awake” group (more exposed to stimuli that could cause interference) remembered much less than the “asleep” group. Thus, the authors attributed these differences to the interference that the stimuli may have caused in the waking state.

    Types of interference

    Associative Interference Theory argues that memories encoded in long-term memory are effectively forgotten and cannot be retrieved in short-term memory because the “memories” or memories interfere or interfere with each other. .

    like that, it is considered that in the process of learning, forgetting is caused by the interference of certain memories on others. There are two types of interference:

    proactive interference

    Also called proactive inhibition, Appears when learned information (“old” information) makes it difficult to retain or learn new information.

    According to Underwood (1957), in this type of interference, forgetting will be a function of the number of experiences in which the subject participates; that is, the greater the number of experiences, the greater the forgetting.

    This type of interference would explain, for example, why multilingual people (who speak several languages), when learning a new language, have difficulty remembering the words of the new language. This often happens because words already learned from other languages ​​interfere with speech (“come to the surface”).

    retroactive inference

    It is the opposite phenomenon, when new information makes it difficult to retain or learn previously learned information (“Old” information).

    According to some authors, greater retroactive interference will occur when the similarity between the interfering material and the learned material is greater.

    For example, think of a student learning a list of English words for an exam. The next day, he studies a list of words in German. It is likely that when you want to remember the list of words in English, you will have a hard time doing so, because the last words studied (in German) make it difficult to study the first ones, they interfere.

    Limitations of the theory

    The theory of associative interference only accentuates the effects of interference in declarative or explanatory memory, and less in implicit memory.

    On the other hand, the theory explains why forgetting occurs, but does not describe or explain the evolution of the forgetting rate.

      Extension of the theory

      Other authors, Underwood and Postman (1960), proposed an extensive hypothesis of the associative theory of interference, which went beyond the laboratory. They called it the extra-experimental interference hypothesis., And in her they proposed that the forgetting could take place by effect of the interference of the habits of the language of the subject.

      However, the data found showed that the forgetting rate did not seem to have anything to do with the frequency of words, or in the case of meaningless syllables, with the frequency of the constituent letter pairs in the English language. .

      Bibliographical references:

      • De Vega, M. (1990). Introduction to cognitive psychology. Psychology Alliance. Madrid.
      • Manzanero, AN EL (2008). Oversight. In A EL Manzanero, Psychology of the Witness (pp. 83-90). Madrid: Ed. Pyramid.
      • Aresta, NJ (2012). Is it possible to improve the teaching of pathology in courses and conferences? Pathology Rev Latinoam, 50 (3), 232-236.

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