Altmann & Gray (2002)

Altmann, E. M., & Gray, W. D. (2002). Forgetting to remember: The functional relationship of decay and interference. Psychological Science, 13(1), 27-33.

Forgetting to remember: The functional relationship of decay and interference

Functional decay theory proposes that decay and interference, historically viewed as competing accounts of forgetting, are instead functionally related. The theory posits (1) that when an attribute must be updated frequently in memory, its current value decays to prevent interference with later values, and (2) the decay rate adapts to the rate of memory updates. Behavioral predictions of the theory were tested in a task-switching paradigm in which memory for the current task had to be updated every few seconds, hundreds of times. RT and error both increased gradually between updates, reflecting decay of memory for the current task. This performance decline was slower when updates were less frequent, reflecting a decrease in the decay rate following a decrease in the update rate. A candidate mechanism for controlled decay is proposed, the data are reconciled with practice effects, and implications are discussed for models of executive control.

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