Age-Differences in the Temporal Properties of Proactive Interference in Working Memory

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The inability to suppress irrelevant information has been suggested as a primary cause of proactive interference (PI), and this deficit may be enhanced in aging. The current study examines age differences and temporal boundaries of PI, by manipulating lure distances in a verbal 2-back working memory task. Both younger and older adults showed effects of interference for proximal 3- and 4-back lures, and this effect was greater for older adults. Whereas younger adults showed less interference during 4-back compared to 3-back lures, in both reaction times and accuracy, older adults improved only in accuracy. For distant lures, when the time between the 1st presentation of an item to its reappearance as a lure item was longer (e.g., 5- to 10-back lures), younger adults were no longer affected by PI. However, older adults were affected by PI throughout all distant lures, up to the most distant lure (9-/10-back). The results suggest that older adults were less successful in resolving interference from both proximal and distant familiar lures. Further, younger adults were able to overcome the effects of PI completely after a specific lure distance. The age differences in temporal properties of PI may therefore highlight a unique component linked to impaired interference control and aging.

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