, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 346-357

Interference between storage and processing in working memory: Feature overwriting, not similarity-based competition


Eight experiments with the complex span paradigm are presented to investigate why concurrent processing disrupts short-term retention. Increasing the pace of the processing task led to worse recall, supporting the hypothesis that the processing task distracts attention from maintenance operations. Neither phonological nor semantic similarity between memory items and processing-task material impaired memory. In contrast, the degree of phonological overlap between memory items and processing-task material affected recall negatively, supporting feature overwriting as one source of interference in the complex span paradigm. When compared directly, phonological overlap impaired memory, but similarity had a beneficial effect. These findings rule out response competition or confusion as a mechanism of interference between storage and processing.

This research was supported by departmental funds from the University of Bristol. I thank Gerry Tehan and Nelson Cowan for valuable comments on a previous version of the manuscript, and Anupriya Dwivedi, Tim Jones, Chris Palmer, and Richard Skelton for their help in collecting the data.