Online College Courses for Credit

2 Tutorials that teach Memory Retrieval and Interference
Take your pick:
Memory Retrieval and Interference

Memory Retrieval and Interference

Author: Erick Taggart

Identify the causes of irretrievable information.

See More

Source: Dog & Stick Public Domain Phone; Public Domain Surgeon Public Domain Diffraction; Public Domain

Video Transcription

Download PDF

Hello, class. So when we're talking about memory, the term consolidation, we're first to the process of forming a permanent long term memory. So when we're talking about the process of creating memories-- encoding, storage, and later retrieval, consolidation-- we're first to that process of encoding it so that it's stored within our memory, that forming of that solid long term memory.

So if a memory is not available to us, then we didn't encode it or store it properly. And you no longer have that memory, so it's not available at all. In other words, consolidation has been interrupted, so a permanent memory was not formed.

If a memory is not accessible, it can still be available. Which is to say, you can still have it consolidated in your memory. It's part of your memory, but there's a problem with actually retrieving that memory. And so one of the reasons that we can have trouble retrieving a memory is that there's some kind of interference.

So interference is affecting the accessibility of that memory. Interference means when a new or old memory compete with each other and make it difficult for you to remember those kinds of information. And we'll be looking over some of these processes later.

Now, there are two different types of interference that we can talk about. There's proactive and retroactive interference. So let's differentiate between what those are.

A proactive interference is when old memories interfere with the retrieval of new memories. So we start with old, and then we move forward to the new. That's the way I kind of remember proactive, moving forward. An example of this might be when you can't remember a new phone number that you've just learned because it's too similar to your old childhood phone number.

Now retroactive interference, on the other hand, is when new memories interfere with the retrieval of old memories. So in other words, we start with the beginning, and then we move backwards. We're retroactive.

An example of this is when you may have trouble remembering the name of someone at a party from before, because you just met a brand new group of people at a party that you're at now. So that new information that you received is affecting whether you can recall that previous information that you learned. Now, interference is a way that we can unintentionally affect the retrieval of memories.

Now, we can also intentionally forget memories, which can affect us either consciously or unconsciously. So these different things we'll talk about are often ways that a person protects them self from psychological harm. In other words, these things apply especially to memories that are unpleasant or uncomfortable for a person.

So first, we have suppression, in which we're intentionally and consciously attempting to forget a memory that we might have. For example, if a family member, let's say, brings up something that makes you angry while you're in public, you can intentionally choose to either ignore or forget that thing-- and that way you don't have to necessarily get angry or you don't make a scene, or something like that. So you push it out of your memory for the sake of, let's say, appearances. Later, you can bring up that memory, you can remember it, and consciously dwell on it. And then get angry at it, but maybe in an appropriate kind of setting. So that's one way suppression works.

Repression, on the other hand, is unconsciously forgetting some kind of unpleasant memory. For example, ER surgeons can repress particularly bad memories of things they saw while they're working, like horrific accidents or traumatic stories that they might have encountered. However, it's important to note that this can lead to all kinds of harmful psychological effects on its own, according to psychodynamic theories. So while repression might be necessary in certain instances, it can also lead to effects in its own right. And that should be something to remember when we're talking about these kinds of unpleasant memories.

Terms to Know

The process of forming permanent, long-term memories.


When new and old memories compete with each other and make it difficult to remember.


Unconsciously forgetting a usually unpleasant memory.


Consciously attempting to forget a memory.