Abstract

Interference from previously learned information, known as proactive interference (PI), limits our memory retrieval abilities. Previous studies of PI resolution have focused on the role of short-term familiarity, or recency, in causing PI. In the present study, we investigated the impact of long-term stimulus familiarity on PI resolution processes. In two behavioral experiments and one event-related fMRI experiment, long-term familiarity was manipulated through the use of famous and nonfamous stimuli, and short-term familiarity was manipulated through the use of recent and nonrecent probe items in an item recognition task. The right middle frontal gyrus demonstrated greater sensitivity to famous stimuli, suggesting that long-term stimulus familiarity plays a role in influencing PI resolution processes. Further examination of the effect of long-term stimulus familiarity on PI resolution revealed a larger behavioral interference effect for famous stimuli, but only under speeded response conditions. Thus, models of memory retrieval—and of the cognitive control mechanisms that guide retrieval processes—should consider the impact of and interactions among sources of familiarity on multiple time scales.

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