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Exploring semantic memory by investigating buildup and release of proactive interference in healthy older adults and individuals with dementia of the Alzheimer type


There is debate regarding the integrity of semantic memory in dementia of the Alzheimer type (DAT). One view argues that DAT is associated with a breakdown in semantic memory; the other argues that DAT is associated with predominantly preserved semantic memory and a breakdown in retrieval. The classic release from proactive interference (RPI) paradigm was used to shed light on this debate. Individuals with early-stage DAT (n = 36) and healthy older adult controls (n = 45) participated in an RPI paradigm. Each trial was a Brown–Peterson task in which participants read three-word lists, counted (for 0, 3, 6, or 9 s), and recalled the words. Both groups showed significant proactive interference (PI), but the size of the PI was significantly smaller in the DAT group. The group difference in PI may be due to the faster forgetting rate in the DAT group. Both groups showed significant RPI and there was no group difference in size when RPI was considered in terms of PI levels. Both groups showed PI and RPI in prior list intrusions. The DAT group's significant buildup and release of PI based on semantic categories suggest predominantly preserved semantic memory activity, at least, in early-stage DAT individuals. (JINS, 2003, 9, 830–838.)

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Reprint requests to: Kristi S. Multhaup, P.O. Box 7000, Davidson College, Davidson, NC 28035-7000. E-mail:
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Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society
  • ISSN: 1355-6177
  • EISSN: 1469-7661
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-international-neuropsychological-society
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