What is it about?

Performing everyday tasks requires the constant updating of our working memory, which is especially hard when previously relevant memories interfere with current ones (“Did I add a teaspoon of salt already, or was that the baking powder?”). In adults, this proactive interference has been well established as one of the most importance causes of forgetting in everyday life. In this study, first, we showed that 3-year-old toddlers are highly sensitive to the effect of proactive interference in their working memory. We also found that the ability to cope with interference changes between 3 and 8 years of age.

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Why is it important?

Characterizing proactive interference in early childhood has three potential impacts. First, it can inform models of memory and its development. Second, it can lead to applied insights, such as a better understanding of children’s learning in the classroom. Lastly, it has important methodological impacts. Working memory capacity is often measured by presenting a series of trials with similar, or repeated, stimuli—a practice that promotes interference and lowers performance. Without using new paradigms that account for, or avoid, this interference, we may be systematically underestimating children’s working memory capacity.


Data collection for this project was very difficult during the two years of the pandemic. However, thanks to the help of the Discovery Museum in Dover, New Hampshire, and the intrepid team of Mollie Hamilton and Tessyia Roper, we managed to collect data from more than 250 children.

Zsuzsa Kaldy
University of Massachusetts Boston

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Can’t get it out of my head: Proactive interference in the visual working memory of 3- to 8-year-old children., Developmental Psychology, March 2024, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/dev0001686.
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