Control of interference during working memory updating

Arnaud Szmalec, Frederick Verbruggen, Andre Vandierendonck, Eva Kemps

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    76 Citations (Scopus)


    The current study examined the nature of the processes underlying working memory updating. In 4 experiments using the n-back paradigm, the authors demonstrate that continuous updating of items in working memory prevents strong binding of those items to their contexts in working memory, and hence leads to an increased susceptibility to proactive interference. Results of Experiments 1 and 2 show that this interference reflects a competition between a process that reveals the degree of familiarity of an item and a context-sensitive recollection process that depends on the strength of bindings in working memory. Experiment 3 further clarifies the origins of interference during updating by demonstrating that even items that are semantically related to the updated working memory contents but that have not been maintained in working memory before cause proactive interference. Finally, the results of Experiment 4 indicate that the occurrence of interference leads to top-down behavioral adjustments that prioritize recollection over familiarity assessment. The implications of these findings for the construct validity of the n-back task, for the control processes involved in working memory updating, and for the concept of executive control more generally are discussed.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)137-151
    Number of pages15
    JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011


    • Executive control
    • N-back
    • Proactive interference
    • Updating
    • Working memory


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