Memory Without Consolidation: Temporal Distinctiveness Explains Retroactive Interference

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Is consolidation needed to account for retroactive interference in free recall? Interfering mental activity during the retention interval of a memory task impairs performance, in particular if the interference occurs in temporal proximity to the encoding of the to-be-remembered (TBR) information. There are at least two rival theoretical accounts of this temporal gradient of retroactive interference. The cognitive neuroscience literature has suggested neural consolidation is a pivotal factor determining item recall. According to this account, interfering activity interrupts consolidation processes that would otherwise stabilize the memory representations of TBR items post-encoding. Temporal distinctiveness theory, by contrast, proposes that the retrievability of items depends on their isolation in psychological time. According to this theory, information processed after the encoding of TBR material will reduce the temporal distinctiveness of the TBR information. To test between these accounts, implementations of consolidation were added to the SIMPLE model of memory and learning. We report data from two experiments utilizing a two-list free recall paradigm. Modeling results imply that SIMPLE was able to model the data and did not benefit from the addition of consolidation. It is concluded that the temporal gradient of retroactive interference cannot be taken as evidence for memory consolidation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1570-1593
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2015


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