Retrieval interference in sentence comprehension

J Mem Lang. 2006 Aug;55(2):157-166. doi: 10.1016/j.jml.2006.03.007.


The role of interference effects in sentence processing has recently begun to receive attention, however whether these effects arise during encoding or retrieval remains unclear. This paper draws on basic memory research to help distinguish these explanations and reports data from an experiment that manipulates the possibility for retrieval interference while holding encoding conditions constant. We found clear support for the principle of cue-overload, wherein cues available at retrieval cannot uniquely distinguish among competitors, thus giving rise to interference effects. We discuss the data in relation to a cue-based parsing framework (Van Dyke & Lewis, 2003) and other interference effects observed in sentence processing (e.g., Gordon, Hendrick, & Johnson, 2001, 2004). We conclude from the available data that the memory system that subserves language comprehension operates according to similar principles as memory in other domains.