What is the Difference Between Proactive and Retroactive Interference

The main difference between proactive and retroactive interference is that in proactive interference, old memories interfere with new memories, whereas in retroactive interference, new memories interfere with old memories.

Interference theory explains why we forget things. It describes that one memory can interfere with another when we try to retrieve information from our long-term memory. Sometimes, things we have learned in the past can cause confusion with new learnings; similarly, new learning can also interfere with old learnings. This is what we refer to as proactive and retroactive interference. It’s also important to notice that proactive and retroactive interference are more likely to occur when memories are similar.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Proactive Interference
     – Definition, Features
2. What is Retroactive Interference
     – Definition, Features
3. Difference Between Proactive and Retroactive Interference
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Proactive Interference, Retractive InterferenceDifference Between Proactive and Retroactive Interference - Comparison Summary

What is Proactive Interference

Proactive interference happens when you can’t learn new information or learn a new task because of old information or an old task you have already learned. What happens here is that what you already know interferes with what you are currently trying to learn. In other words, old memories interfere with new memories. Old memories are more strongly embedded in your memory because you have had more time to revisit them. Therefore, it’s easier for you to recall them than your new memories.

Difference Between Proactive and Retroactive Interference

There are many examples of proactive interference in our daily lives. If you are travelling in another country, you may face trouble handling foreign currency. This is because your knowledge of your local currency interferes with your new knowledge. During the first month of every year, most of us have trouble writing the new year in the date. This is another example of proactive interference. Similarly, once someone we contact frequently changes his or her telephone number, most of us have trouble remembering the new number. Another example of proactive interference is learning a new language. When you are learning a new language, you may frequently find yourself recalling words of the languages you already know instead of words of the new language. This also happens because your previous learning disrupts your new learning.

What is Retroactive Interference

Retroactive interference is the opposite of proactive interference. In retractive interference, you forget a task you have already learnt due to learning a new task. What happens here is that new memories interfere with the retrieval of your old memories.

Main Difference - Proactive vs Retroactive Interference

Studies have shown that retroactive interference can disrupt learnings. For example, if you have to learn a lot of theories and facts for an exam, you may have trouble remembering those you have learned previously. Similarly, if you move to a new location, you may soon forget the address of your previous location. This happens due to retroactive interference.

Difference Between Proactive and Retroactive Interference

Definition

Proactive interference is the phenomenon of old memories interfering with new memories, whereas retroactive interference is the interference of new memories interfering with old memories.

Description

In proactive interference, what you already know interferes with what you are currently trying to learn, whereas, in retroactive interference, new memories interfere with the retrieval of your old memories.

Examples

Incorrectly writing the date during the first new months of a year, confusion when using foreign currency, inability to remember someone’s new phone number, etc., are some examples of proactive interference. Forgetting the address of your previous location and forgetting the names of the co-workers in your previous workplace are examples of retroactive interference.

Conclusion

In proactive interference, what you already know interferes with what you are currently trying to learn, whereas, in retroactive interference, new memories interfere with the retrieval of your old memories. The main difference between proactive and retroactive interference is that in proactive interference, old memories interfere with new memories, whereas in retroactive interference, new memories interfere with old memories.

Reference:

1. Vinney, Cynthia. “Proactive and Retroactive Interference: Definition and Examples.” ThoughtCo, Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “3337026” (CC0) via Pixabay
2. “Memory Interference” By Aritter at English Wikibooks (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia 

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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