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Negative transfer relates itself with a detrimental effect of prior experience on the learning of a new task. It occurs when a learned, and previously adaptive response to one stimulus interferes with the acquisition of an adaptive response to a novel stimulus that is similar to the first.
A common example is switching from a standard transmission vehicle to an automatic transmission vehicle. The adaptive response series in a standard vehicle when it reaches 10 miles per hour is to step on the clutch, shift gears, and step on the accelerator. This previously adaptive response is incompatible with the proper response in an automatic transmission
A common test for negative transfer is the AB-AC list learning paradigm from the verbal learning research of the 1950s and 1960s. In this paradigm, two sets/lists of paired associates are learned in succession. If the second set of associations (List 2) constitutes a modification of the first set of associations (List 1), negative transfer results and thus the learning rate of the second list is slower than the first list.
This concept is often confused with proactive interference, which concerns itself with a negative affect of prior interference on the recall of a second task.
- Reid, E. (1981) Teaching of Psychology, v8 n2 p109-10
- Postman & Stark (1969). Journal of Experimental Psychology, vol. 79 (no. 1), pages 168-177.