Working memory (WM) capacity – the capacity to maintain and manipulate information in mind – plays an essential role in high-level cognitive functions. An important determinant of WM capacity is the ability to resolve interference of previously encoded but no longer relevant information (proactive interference: PI).
Four different mechanisms of PI resolution involving binding and inhibition have been proposed in the literature, although debate continues regarding their role. Braver et al. (2007) introduced an important distinction in the PI resolution literature, proposing two general types of PI control mechanisms that occur at different time points: proactive control (involves preparation in advance of the interference) and reactive control (occurs after interference occurs). This thesis proposed that among these four functions involving binding and inhibition, item inhibition and binding could be involved in proactive control, while familiarity inhibition and episodic inhibition could be involved in reactive control. The question is which mechanism in each pair is indeed involved in proactive control and reactive control respectively, and how these proactive control and reactive control mechanisms work together to resolve PI. In addition, do these mechanisms play a role in the relationship between PI resolution and WM?
In an individual differences study, individuals’ ability to resolve PI was assessed in memory tasks, with two versions of each that encouraged the use of either proactive or reactive control. In addition, measures were obtained of individuals’ ability of binding and inhibition in tasks that had minimal memory demands. Regression analyses showed contributions of binding and inhibition to PI resolution and WM. Moreover, these functions are responsible for the correlation between PI resolution and WM. In a neuroimaging study, the neural basis of proactive control was examined by comparing two memory tasks that differed in their demand on binding and inhibition. In addition, the brain regions engaged in reactive control was examined by contrasting trials involving interference or not. The thesis showed that item inhibition carried out by the left inferior frontal cortex (IFC) is involved in proactive control while episodic inhibition carried out by the left IFC and the posterior parietal cortex is involved in reactive control.