Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Social Motivation in Prospective Memory: Higher Importance Ratings and Reported Performance Rates for Social Tasks

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Social Motivation in Prospective Memory: Higher Importance Ratings and Reported Performance Rates for Social Tasks

Article excerpt

Few studies have addressed social motivation in prospective memory (PM). In a pilot study and two main studies, we examined whether social PM tasks possess a motivational advantage over nonsocial PM tasks. In the pilot study and Study 1, participants listed their real-life important and less important PM tasks. Independent raters categorized the PM tasks as social or nonsocial. Results from both studies showed a higher proportion of tasks rated as social when important tasks were requested than when less important tasks were requested. In Study 1, participants also reported whether they had remembered to perform each PM task. Reported performance rates were higher for tasks rated as social than for those rated as nonsocial. Finally, in Study 2, participants rated the importance of two hypothetical PM tasks, one social and one nonsocial. The social PM task was rated higher in importance. Overall, these findings suggest that social PM tasks are viewed as more important than nonsocial PM tasks and they are more likely to be performed. We propose that consideration of the social relevance of PM will lead to a more complete and ecologically valid theoretical description of PM performance.

Keywords: prospective memory, motivation, social motivation, task importance

Mots-clés : mémoire prospective, motivation, motivation sociale, importance de la tâche

Prospective memory (PM) refers to memory for delayed intentions, such as remembering to call someone on his or her birthday or remembering to return a library book. Typically, prospective memory has been examined through the lens of cognitive psychology, and this approach has led to many advances in understanding the cognitive components involved (Kliegel, McDaniel, & Einstein, 2008). However, a number of studies have demonstrated that motivation can also influence whether or not one remembers to perform a task (e.g., Jeong & Cranney, 2009; Kliegel, Martin, McDaniel, & Einstein, 2001, Exp. 1; Kliegel, Martin, McDaniel, & Einstein, 2004, Exp. 2; Kvavilashvili, 1987; Marsh et al., 1998; Meacham & Singer, 1977). Motivation may play a particularly important role when the task to be remembered is a social one. For instance, several studies have found evidence of superior performance for social PM tasks, that is, tasks that have consequences for other people (e.g., Brandimonte, Ferrante, Bianco, & Villani, 2010). In the present set of studies, we attempted to replicate this superiority in performance using real-life social and nonsocial tasks, and we investigated the possibility that one reason social tasks are more likely to be remembered is because they are viewed as more important.

Motivational Influences in Prospective Memory

Researchers examining the role of motivation in PM have focused mainly on how task importance affects performance. In multiple studies, results have shown that more important PM tasks are more likely to be performed (e.g., Cicogna & Nigro, 1998; Jeong & Cranney, 2009; Kvavilashvili, 1987; Marsh et al, 1998). There are several ways that importance can increase PM performance. First, more important tasks may benefit from greater use of memory strategies (Penningroth & Scott, 2011a), and strategy use, especially external strategy use, is associated with better PM performance (e.g., Einstein & McDaniel, 1990; Marsh et al., 1998; Maylor, 1990; Meacham & Singer, 1977). Second, higher task importance has also been shown to improve PM performance by increasing the amount of attention devoted to monitoring for the performance cue (e.g., Einstein et al., 2005; Kliegel et al., 2001, Exp. 1; Kliegel et al., 2004, Exp. 2). Finally, recent evidence (Jeong & Cranney, 2009) suggests that another mechanism underlying better performance for high motivation tasks might be an increase in the frequency of self-initiated retrievals on the targeted performance day.

However, a question that remains is "What makes a PM task important? …

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