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Cortex. 2007 Jul;43(5):616-34.

Forgetting due to retroactive interference: a fusion of Müller and Pilzecker's (1900) early insights into everyday forgetting and recent research on anterograde amnesia.

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Human Cognitive Neuroscience, Psychology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.


Ebbinghaus' seminal work suggested that forgetting occurred as a function of time. However, it raised a number of fundamental theoretical issues that still have not been resolved in the literature. Müller and Pilzecker (1900) addressed some of these issues in a remarkable manner but their observations have been mostly ignored in recent years. Müller and Pilzecker (1900) showed that the materials and the task that intervene between presentation and recall may interfere with the to-be-remembered items, and they named this phenomenon "retroactive interference" (RI). They further asked whether there is a type of RI that is based only on distraction, and not on the similarity between the memoranda and the interfering stimuli. Their findings, and our follow up research in healthy volunteers and amnesiacs, confirm that forgetting can be induced by any subsequent mentally effortful interpolated task, irrespective of its content; the interpolated "interfering" material does not have to be similar to the to-be-remembered stimuli.

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