Interference control in working memory: Evidence for discriminant validity between removal and inhibition tasks

Alodie Rey-Mermet, Krishneil A. Singh, Gilles E. Gignac, Christopher R. Brydges, Ullrich K.H. Ecker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Working memory (WM) is a system for maintenance of and access to a limited number of goal-relevant representations in the service of higher cognition. Because of its limited capacity, WM requires interference-control processes, allowing us to avoid being distracted by irrelevant information. Recent research has proposed two interference-control processes, which are conceptually similar: (1) an active, item-wise removal process assumed to remove no-longer relevant information from WM, and (2) an inhibitory process assumed to suppress the activation of distractors against competing, goal-relevant representations. The purpose of this study was to determine the extent to which the tasks used to assess removal and inhibition measure the same interference-control construct. Results showed acceptable to good reliabilities for nearly all measures. Similar to previous studies, a structural equation modeling approach identified a reliable latent variable of removal. However, also similar to some previous studies, no latent variable of inhibition could be established. This was the case even when the correlation matrix used to compute the latent variable of inhibition was disattenuated for imperfect reliability. Critically, the individual measures of inhibition were unrelated to the latent variable of removal. These results provide tentative support for the notion that removal is not related to the interference-control processes assessed in inhibition tasks. This suggests that the removal process should be conceptualized as a process independent of the concept of inhibition, as proposed in computational WM models that implement removal as the "unbinding" of a WM item from the context in which it occurred.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0243053
Pages (from-to)e0243053
JournalPLoS One
Issue number12 December
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


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