Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Ongoing Task Delays Affect Prospective Memory More Powerfully Than Filler Task Delays

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Ongoing Task Delays Affect Prospective Memory More Powerfully Than Filler Task Delays

Article excerpt

The effect of delay on prospective memory (PM) is mixed. Research has typically shown that PM either decreases or remains unchanged as the time increases between intention formation and encounter with a PM cue. However, the results of one study demonstrated that PM sometimes increases with increasing delays (Hicks, Marsh, & Russell, 2000). Hicks et al. hypothesised that increasing the delay may afford an opportunity for people to spontaneously rehearse the intention, or to be reminded of the intention. In the present work, we tested delays of 6 minutes, 21 minutes, and 36 minutes. Two factors were orthogonally manipulated between-subjects. One was the duration of the filler task that came between intention formation and the beginning of the ongoing task in which PM cues were embedded. The second was the duration of the ongoing task prior to the presentation of the first PM cue. Lengthening the ongoing task delay decreased PM. However, lengthening the filler task nominally increased PM. These results suggest that delays within the ongoing task replicate the effects traditionally found in retrospective memory work. In contrast, delays between intention formation and the beginning of the ongoing task may not have straightforward effects on PM retrieval.

Keywords: prospective memory, retention interval, delay, ongoing task, task interference

Mots-clés : mémoire prospective, intervalle de rétention, délai, tâche en cours, interférence entre tâches

An important factor that influences memory performance is the length of the delay between encoding new information into memory and the moment that information is to be retrieved. The length between the encoding of information and the initial opportunity for the retrieval of that information can have a negative effect on retrospective memory (e.g., Wixted & Ebbeson, 1991). Prospective memory (PM), or the ability to carry out delayed intentions, shares some similarities with retrospective memory. Labouratory investigations of PM typically consist of having participants form an intention to make a novel response to the presentation of a PM cue embedded in an ongoing task meant to simulate an everyday activity (i.e., an eventbased PM task). In terms of retrospective memory, forming an intention to respond to a specified cue or category of information can be likened to encoding information to be retained in memory for a later test. When forming an intention, participants must encode the characteristics of the cue as well as the action that must take place upon the presentation of the cue. The contributions of retrospective memory processes have been well established in the PM literature (e.g., Craik, 1986; Einstein & McDaniel, 1996; Meier & Graf, 2000; Marsh, Cook, & Hicks, 2006; Marsh, Hicks, & Hancock, 2000; Meiser & Schult, 2008; Smith & Bayen, 2004). A small but growing body of research has examined the effect of the delay between intention formation and the opportunity for retrieval on PM performance. The results are varied. Although Hicks, Marsh, and Russell (2000) discussed some of the prior literature up to that point, a recapitulation of the key findings, including a more complete consideration of prior work, is warranted.

Generally speaking, the length of the delay between intention formation and the opportunity for retrieval either negatively affects PM or has no effect. The delay between the formation of an intention and its ultimate execution is usually defined by various filler activities that come prior to the ongoing task, although this is not always the case. In Table 1 we present a listing of findings culled from the literature. ' Most of these studies examined PM in an event-based paradigm that was either in an experimental context or in a naturalistic context. In only a couple of apparent occasions was an activity-based intention used (i.e., complete a task after another has finished). The reader can find other details in Table 1, but of primary interest was whether various delays made PM worse, better, or left it unchanged. …

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