«The present study investigated whether subjects were sensitive to negative transfer and proactive interference (PI) at encoding and retrieval and ...»
In all 3 experiments, subjects’ judgments were very accurate overall. However, also in all 3 experiments, interference subjects’ DPOKs for interference items were less accurate than their DPOKs for non-interference items. However, interference subjects' lowered accuracy for interference items over non-interference items could be attributed to different sources: cue familiarity in E1, PI in E3, and equivalence in DPOK magnitude in E2. In comparison, in all 3 experiments, controls were equally accurate for both interference and non-interference items.
The item-level effect in E3 is consistent with Maki (1999). Her subjects learned number-word pairs via study/test cycles during the learning phase of her experiment.
That is, subjects gained experience in which number-word pairs they had trouble recalling. Subjects needed to reach a criterion of 6 out of 12 number-word pairs correct on list 1 before moving on to list 2. Maki found that subjects who learned interference number-word pairs in list 2 gave lower JOLs to list 1 than did subjects who learned noninterference number-word pairs in list 2.
But, item-level sensitivity to PI in E3 is inconsistent with Metcalfe et al. (1993), who found that feeling-of-knowing judgments for word pairs that subjects did not correctly recall were higher for interference word pairs than for non-interference word pairs. However, Metcalfe et al.'s results are consistent with the present E1 where interference subjects gave slightly higher DPOKs to interference items than they did to non-interference items. The item-level PI effect in E3 also is inconsistent with the lack of an item-level effect in E2.
How might these contradictory results be reconciled? It could be that item-level sensitivity to interference is difficult to elicit because at the item level other available cues might seem more diagnostic than interference. For instance, because cue familiarity prompts people to continue to search for the item, cue familiarity's influence might be difficult to discount when making DPOKs. Moreover, when people are encouraged to make quick judgments, as they were here, they are more likely to base their metacognitive judgments on familiarity (Benjamin, 2005). Also, people might base their judgments at retrieval on interference at the item level only after studying and testing themselves on the material repeatedly as in Maki's study. Or, they might only detect it at the item level if there is a high level of competition between items as there would be with re-combined word pairs (E3). Why, then, weren't subjects sensitive to PI at the item-level in E2? On one hand, E2's results could be due to chance. On the other hand, the types of control strategies (e.g., inhibition, rehearsal, etc.) elicited by list-level monitoring at encoding might have differentially influenced how confident subjects were that they were about to retrieve an item at recall. Subjects in E1 and E3 might have approached the task differently than subjects in E2: In E1, because the word pairs were foreign language vocabulary, subjects might have been more inclined to use strategies. Of course, this is pure speculation. In E3, subjects spent almost twice as long studying the word pairs, which could have been because they were attempting to use the same strategy for all word pairs. This would be consistent with subjects' behavior in the OSPAN. When subjects are given a strategy, they spend more time studying the words than when they are not given a strategy (Turley-Ames & Whitfield, 2003). Despite the lack of an itemlevel study time effect, E3 subjects still could have been aware that learning these word pairs were difficult. And, when they actually had trouble recalling the interference word pairs, their earlier observation might have been validated. Again, this is speculation and research will need to be done to test these ideas.
In contrast, list-level awareness of PI seemed to be easier to elicit than item-level awareness. In E1 and E3, subjects were sensitive to PI at the list level, suggesting that subjects should exert control prior to retrieval. People might have developed a theory that focusing on the present material is best for recall. Again, the access function of inhibition would be the most useful since subjects could suppress an entire list, and it would not require identification of specific competitors.
Working memory. WM was included in E2 and E3 in order to help clarify results.
If monitoring recruits control and WM influences PI susceptibility, then monitoring for PI might vary with WM. In E2, WM did not predict subjects’ DPOKs or influence the accuracy of their DPOKs. In contrast, in E3, WM did influence subjects' DPOKs: Low spans’ gave higher DPOKs to non-interference items than they did to interference items.
They did this in both the control and interference conditions, suggesting the difference might have been due to intrinsic qualities (e.g., concreteness, distinctiveness) about the non-interference word pairs rather than competition between the re-combined interference word pairs. High and medium spans also gave higher DPOKs to the noninterference items than the interference items, but only if they were in the interference condition, suggesting that they were sensitive to PI at the item level whereas low spans were not WMC did not influence the relative accuracy of subjects’ DPOKs, nor did it predict recall performance, indicating that all subjects experienced relatively the same amount of PI.
Experiencing PI might be a normal experience for low spans. In contrast, high spans might be better able to overcome PI when they encounter it as suggested by Kane and Engle's (2000) results where only high spans in the divided attention conditions differed from their controls on PI buildup lists. In contrast, low spans in the divided attention conditions did not differ from the low spans in the control group. The atypical nature of the experience might have aided high and medium spans in recognizing that the interference items were more difficult to recall because it drew their attention to it. But, if high and medium spans were monitoring at the item level, why did they not better exert control during retrieval? High and medium spans might have realized the cost of suppression. They might not have suppressed word pairs because they expected to be tested on list 1 (either because they explicitly asked, were suspicious, or because of how the JOLs were framed). Moreover, the AB/ABr method of inducing interference could prevent the use of certain strategies. In both E2 and E3, suppressing a competitor from list 1 would have aided trying to recall the second word in the current word pair, but it would have harmed recall for a later word pair since the interference word pairs were recombinations from list 1. This suggests that un-binding and re-binding recently learned information within a short time is difficult for even high spans, especially if they cannot use inhibition to their advantage during the task.
The goal of the present research was to begin investigating whether people are aware of negative transfer and PI, because such monitoring might prompt people to try to overcome interference through control processes. Despite monitoring not translating into control here, the present research does suggest that monitoring might recruit control processes as indicated by the high and medium spans monitoring at the item level during recall. Future research should focus on the coordination of monitoring and control in order to demonstrate that monitoring does indeed recruit control processes. Just as importantly, more investigation into whether or not people are restricted to a list-level awareness of negative transfer at encoding is needed as well. In contexts affording the opportunity for control, item-level awareness of increased negative transfer could translate into a more efficient and effective use of inhibition and better recall.
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