Why do we remember some things, but forget others? Recently, the Contextual Binding theory (CBT) proposed that context plays a role in binding multiple features of an episode retained in long-term memory. Forgetting can then be explained by interfering events, which interrupt the binding of features. Interference can occur prior to the event (proactive) or after the event (retroactive), leading to distorted memory. The current leading standard consolidation theory suggests that forgetting occurs when solidifying memory fails. While this theory can explain forgetting due to retroactive interference (forgetting your old password after setting a new one), it cannot explain proactive interference (forgetting the new password due to memory of the old one) as consolidation of an event cannot be disrupted before it begins.
Since memory represents a major part of cognition and influences our studies, it is crucial to study it. For our research course at Maastricht University, our aim was to find experimental support for CBT. We wanted to see if proactive interference also affected people’s performance on a visual memory task. We used a stream of objects of differing similarity, which interfered retro and proactively with the items that needed to be memorized . After 24 hours, participants were asked to identify which objects they recognized. Prior studies have only used a 10-minute break between presentation and recognition. However, in real life, we rarely have to remember objects immediately after seeing them. Our study examines how such interference types may affect memory over the long run.