Retroactive Interference & Proactive Interference: Best 2023 Guide for Marketing

Retroactive Interference

Although often neglected, neuromarketing goes a long way when it comes to analyzing users to boost revenues. No matter what your business is about, psychology and psychological theories such as that of retroactive interference will always be at play.

You need to bear in mind that every business has two main counterparts; the businessman/company and the customer. Therefore, behavior analytics tools are highly significant in helping you understand whether a user is going through a retroactive interference or a proactive one as well as providing you with other invaluable information.

Oh, wait! Did I just forget to define retroactive and proactive interference for you? Then let me make it up to you by explaining them IN DETAIL in this article. If you’re a marketer and don’t want to deal with no psychic stuff, however, (papa Freud would be very upset, though) you can skip the article and get straight down to business by clicking on the button below.

What Is Interference Theory

Earlier when I forgot to tell you the definition of retroactive interference, you probably wondered, ‘why? Isn’t a writer supposed to remember what she wants to write about?’. The truth is, we all forget certain things in life, and that’s what the interference theory is all about. 

Psychologists around the world are always concerned with how the human brain functions. One of the functionalities of our brain is remembering. Therefore, a group of scholars decided to study the factors that cause us to forget already-learned information. 

These scientists believed that it’s not just the passing of time that affects our memory, but rather, it’s the new information entering our brain that causes the loss of certain data in our long-term memory

John A. Bergstrom is thought to be the first psychologist who conducted research regarding interference. In 1892, he asked a group of subjects to sort two decks of cards with words into two different groups. Then, he changed the location of the second pile and realized that the sorting got slower. Thus, he concluded that the first set of sorting rules interfered with the new rules. 

So, to give you a clear-cut definition, interference theory is about the process of one memory interrupting another memory that eventually results in the trouble in remembering one of them.

Now, there are two ways in which our memories interfere one another:

  1. Retroactive interference,
  2. Proactive Interference.

In the upcoming sections, we’re going to discuss each one and provide you with examples.

What Does Retroactive Interference Mean

Let’s speak some linguistics now! If you want to remember this term, you can first consider the word ‘retroactive’ meaning. Retroactive means taking effect from the past. So, it functions backward in time. 

Put simply, retroactive interference (RI) is a phenomenon that happens when the recently learned information interferes with the previously learned information. Also known as ‘retroactive inhibition’, this occurrence prevents you from recalling the past information when the new info arrives. 

retroactive interference
What Is Retroactive Interference

Oftentimes, RI is more problematic than proactive interference as it occurs in large scale and involves unlearning.

There have been a lot of research conducted with this regard. One such example is that of Wohldmann, Healey and Bourne. They studied the effect of retroactive interference on motor movements and realized that when human beings learn new motor movements, they are likely to forget the previous ones.

Now, let’s focus on some examples to help you grasp the idea better, shall we?

What Are Some Examples of Retroactive Interference 

Here are some examples you can have a look at to understand the concept better:

  • According to the retroactive definition (and its theory of interference), we tend to forget certain things we’ve learnt in the past when we encounter new data. As a result, you are more likely to remember your new password rather than your previous one. 
  • Another example can be when a student wants to take the final exams. Most probably, it is harder for you as a student to recall the lessons learnt at the beginning of the semester than the lessons learned at the end of it.
  • Another scenario could be when you start a new relationship. Then one day, you come across one of your exes. Here, the retroactive interference does its work and you may address them with your new girlfriend’s name! (RIP fellow!)

I assume you now know this theory very well. Then, let me walk you through the next one!

What Is Proactive Interference 

In contrast to the theory we elaborated on previously, this one works forward in time. How? 

Proactive interference occurs when our ability to learn new information is disrupted by the old information already established in our long-term memory. In other words, the old memories interfere with the new ones. That’s because the older memories were practiced or revisited more often than the new ones.

proactive interference
Proactive Interference

As you may have guessed, proactive interference is less troublesome compared to the retroactive one. 

What Are Examples of Proactive Interference 

Some instances of older memories interfering with the new ones are:

  • If you’re a teacher, or have a teaching experience, you’ve definately suffered from proactive interference when trying to call the students by their names. Teachers often have trouble when they want to call their new students by their names and may address them with their previous students’ names. 
  • Bilinguals or multilinguals often experience the same effect. If you already know French, and are trying to learn Spanish, you’re liable to using French words when speaking Spanish. That’s because your old memories of French are interfering with that of Spanish.
  • Another example is when you enter the new year and want to write something on your journal, notebook, documents, etc. In this case, you may write the old year instead of the new one when trying to write down the date.

Now that you know the retroactive interference definition in psychology, let us widen our horizens a bit and see what it would mean to incorporate these concepts in marketing.

Can Marketers Use Retroactive Interference to Their Benefit

As mentioned earlier, neuromarketing goes a long way when attempting to increase conversion rates. Successful marketers have recently been using methods such as psychographic segmentation to boost their revenues.

But what does retroactive interference mean in marketing? Well, these psychological terms play a role both in advertising and content marketing. Shall we discuss them?

#1 Advertising 

Imagine there are two companies that sell the same product/services. Users have seen the ads run by one of them in the past, and now they enter the other one’s website. 

Studies have shown that under retroactive interference, users are more liable to forgetting the previously seen ads when they encounter a new ad. Therefore, they are more likely to make a purchase from a website when they see a product being sold on it, forgetting all about the previous brand. 

Well, this can function as a double-edged sword. On one hand, if your website is the one the users land on in the end, you’re lucky and will increase your conversion rates. On the other hand, what should you do in case you’re the one people have seen the ads of and eventually forget about? I’m here to offer a solution for the second scenario!

One study examined the effect of fear-inducing content in advertisements. In this study, 54 participants (aged 18 to 55) watched a TV program in which there was an ad break in the middle of it. This break consisted of 6 advertisements (both fear-inducing and non-fear-inducing). Then, participants were tested to recall the ads. 

Interestingly enough, the results showed that the fear-inducing ads were recalled much better and easier than the ones that induced no fear. Therefore, you can incorporate this finding in your ads if you wish to prevent them from being affected by the interference theory. 

Indeed, you don’t have to use zombies and vampires to make your ads induce fear in your prospects! A sense of losing a great opportunity would do as well. Just get creative with it!

#2 Content Marketing

The definition of retroactive interference shows that it’s all about unlearning. That is, unlearning the previously learned info, or in this case, the competitors’ products. Therefore, the task of a marketer is to come up with a content marketing strategy to enhance this effect and make the users unlearn the other companies’ products. 

However, this unlearning has to happen unconsciously. You shouldn’t explicitly force the users to forget about your rivals. Not only is this important in staying ahead of your competitors, but also benefits you in handling crises. In 2009, for instance, Domino’s pizza overcame the crisis with the help of retroactive interference and went on to be one of the largest chain pizza stores ever.

Indeed, you don’t have to wait for a crisis to happen in order to take advantage of this psychological phenomenon. Think of it in broader terms:

Imagine there’s a product or service offered by another company. The company owns several high-ranking websites and promotes the product on them. However, after doing your research, you find out that that’s not the truth behind its curtain, and every customer has fallen into a trap and is unsatisfied with its quality.

What you can do here is to utilize retroactive interference in the title of the review you write about the product to draw traffic to your website and bring something new to the table. So, if every high-ranking blog’s title is something like ‘X Review: The Best App’, you can have your title as ‘X Review: Not Functional’. 

Now think of it in broader terms, and set up a well-thought-of strategy for your content marketing. Then, utilize the best content marketing tools out there to measure its effectiveness. 

Pro Tip: You can use visual aids to make your content memorable as well.

WatchThemLive: the Best Tool to Measure Your Marketing Efforts

WatchThemLive is a behavior analytics tool that provides you with insightful data about users’ behavior on your website. Offering a range of useful features such as session recordings, heatmaps, analytics dashboard, console error tracking, visual live chat, and many more, WatchThemLive helps you access the data you need to set up strategies for your marketing efforts in the first place or measure their performance. 

WatchThemLive: The Best User Behavior Analytics Tool
WatchThemLive: The Best User Behavior Analytics Tool

People Also Ask about Retroactive & Proactive Interference

So far, we’ve discussed all you need to know about these two psychological terms, and how you can use them in marketing. Now, Let us give some straightforward answers to some of your most frequently asked questions to refresh your memory and prevent the retroactive interference from operating here! 😉

#1. What Is the Difference between Proactive Interference and Retroactive Interference?

The two terms are quite the opposite of each other. Proactive interference refers to a situation in which our ability to learn the new information is disrupted by our old memories, while retroactive interference occurs when learning the new information disrupts the recalling of old info. 

Retroactive Interference Vs. Proactive Interference: What Is the Difference
Retroactive Interference Vs. Proactive Interference: What Is the Difference

#2. What Does Retroactive Interference Disrupt?

The recalling of the older memories. When we learn something new, this new information/skill interferes with the past info on our mind and prevents us from remembering them. 

#3 What Is Retroactive Interference in Marketing?

It’s when you utilize the imperfect memory of customers to enhance your marketing efforts. For instance, retroactive interference can be used in advertising and content creation. You can read about them in detail in this article. 

Over to You

Now that you know all about retroactive and proactive interference, it’s high time you put your knowledge into practice, and get one step ahead of your combatants.
Also, don’t let the retroactive interference fool you into losing a great opportunity! Sign up on WatchThemLive instantly to skyrocket your business in a few clicks!

Sara Fathi
Sara Fathi
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