Investigating cumulative disruptive interference in memory for melodies, words, and pictures

Steffen A. Herff*, Kirk N. Olsen, Aydin Anic, Nora K. Schaal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)


Cumulative disruptive interference in memory describes the well-established phenomenon that recognition performance decreases as the number of intervening items between first and second stimulus presentation increases. Memory for melody has been shown to exhibit resilience to this type of recognition interference, and a novel Regenerative Multiple Representation (RMR) conjecture has been developed to explain these findings. Here, we critically assess, replicate, and extend key findings and predictions of the RMR conjecture. In four tasks (N = 68), we critically test whether memory for melodies’ (Task 1) resilience to cumulative disruptive interference holds when compared to memory for pictures (Task 2) and words (Task 3–4) when many of the previous analytical and methodological discrepancies within the literature are accounted for. Furthermore, we test a prediction of the RMR conjecture that words written in a plain sans-serif style of writing (Task 3) should show stronger cumulative disruptive interference compared to words in an elaborate longhand style of writing (Task 4). Lastly, we explored potential auditory context effects of noisy unintelligible multi-talker babbling on memory for melodies, pictures, and words. As hypothesized, we found strong cumulative disruptive interference in recognition for written words and pictures, but not for melodies. The predicted differences between the two styles of writing was not supported. However, we found evidence for a domain-dependent auditory context effect that can be explained by an increase in cumulative disruptive interference in mix-matching contexts when encoding occurred under adverse listening conditions, but retrieval did not. The findings provide support for some of the assumptions and predictions of the RMR conjecture, and pave the way for future studies that utilise the RMR conjecture as a theoretical framework for understanding the intimate relationship between memory and perception.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-77
Number of pages10
JournalNew Ideas in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • memory
  • interference
  • music perception
  • recognition
  • Regenerative Multiple Representations

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