Ghosts in the machine: Memory interference from the previous trial

Charalampos Papadimitriou, Afreen Ferdoash, Lawrence H. Snyder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Previous memoranda can interfere with the memorization or storage of new information, a concept known as proactive interference. Studies of proactive interference typically use categorical memoranda and match-to-sample tasks with categorical measures such as the proportion of correct to incorrect responses. In this study we instead train five macaques in a spatial memory task with continuous memoranda and responses, allowing us to more finely probe working memory circuits. We first ask whether the memoranda from the previous trial result in proactive interference in an oculomotor delayed response task. We then characterize the spatial and temporal profile of this interference and ask whether this profile can be predicted by an attractor network model of working memory. We find that memory in the current trial shows a bias toward the location of the memorandum of the previous trial. The magnitude of this bias increases with the duration of the memory period within which it is measured. Our simulations using standard attractor network models of working memory show that these models easily replicate the spatial profile of the bias. However, unlike the behavioral findings, these attractor models show an increase in bias with the duration of the previous rather than the current memory period. To model a bias that increases with current trial duration we posit two separate memory stores, a rapidly decaying visual store that resists proactive interference effects and a sustained memory store that is susceptible to proactive interference.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)567-577
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2015


  • Attractor model
  • Interference
  • Spatial memory


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