A Simplified Comparison: Retroactive Vs. Proactive Interference

Difference between retroactive and proactive interference
Forgetting memorized information is a natural and organic process, but the exact pathway involved has not yet been elucidated. However, few theories have been developed to help explain the gradual loss of memory. One such theory is the interference theory which hypothesizes that memory is lost due to proactive and retroactive interference of new information. These two concepts are elaborated and compared here.
Did You Know?
Surgical removal of almost half the brain matter would have no apparent effect on the personality or memory of an individual.
Loss of memory or forgetting, is defined as an inability to retrieve stored information due to its poor encoding, storage, or retrieval. While the process of forgetting is beneficial for maintaining the plasticity of the brain, it is detrimental when useful data or information is lost. There are four main explanations for the loss of stored data.
  • Encoding- Failure in proper encoding of short-term memory leads to their non-conversion into long-term memory, and hence, the inevitable loss
  • Storage Decay- Poor quality and strength of stored memory causes a gradual decay.
  • Retrieval Failure- Inability to successfully retrieve stored long-term memory causes loss of that memory.
  • Interference Theory - Acquisition of new data interferes with similar data that is already stored.
The interference theory works along the same rationale as that of the information processing theory, and exhibits two main types―retroactive and proactive.
Retroactive Vs. Proactive Interference
★ Newly gained knowledge interferes with stored old memory.

★ Old stored information interferes with newly formed memory.
Mode of Action
★ New memory replaces and inhibits the recall of previously stored memory, hence, leading to its loss.

★ Stored information projects itself forward and hampers the gain of new data.
★ Preoccupation of the brain with learning new data causes faulty or no retrieval of old data.

★ The data being acquired is either highly similar or extremely contradictory to the previously stored data.
Brain Structures Involved
★ Left anterior ventral prefrontal cortex

★ Frontal cortex

★ Ventrolateral prefrontal cortex

★ Left anterior prefrontal cortex
Mechanisms Involved
★ Competition between old and new data

★ Unlearning of old data

★ Competition between old and new data
★ Replacing your old password with a new one, causing one to forget the old password.
Man remmembering password
★ A student confuses a concept learned previously with those learned later on.
Confused student
★ Recollection of only the old password and not the new one, after changing it.

★ A student is unable to grasp a new concept due to confusion caused by the already learned similar concepts.
Loss of information or memories by way of interference can be reduced by the use of mnemonic devices or by regular rehearsal and recollection. A few studies have also found that sleep helps prevent retroactive interferences as chances of occurrence of interfering events is minimal during the sleep cycle.