Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

On the Representation of Intentions: Do Personally Relevant Consequences Determine Activation?

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

On the Representation of Intentions: Do Personally Relevant Consequences Determine Activation?

Article excerpt

Abstract The intention-superiority effect describes shorter latencies for reactions to stimuli intended for future enactment, relative to stimuli associated with no enactment or canceled enactment. Previous attempts to demonstrate an intention-superiority effect for other types of tasks-for instance, observing the experimenter executing actions-have not yielded an intention-superiority effect. A reason for this could be that the typical enactment task was associated with a higher degree of personal relevance than were other laboratory-based tasks and that task importance or its consequences heighten the accessibility of intention-relevant materials. In two experiments, we demonstrate an intention-superiority effect for different types of tasks (e.g., monitoring a video clip) when task realization has personally relevant consequences in terms of a performance evaluation. In contrast, we found no intention-superiority effect when future enactment had no personally relevant consequences for participants. These findings imply that the intention-superiority effect is not restricted to actions but occurs generally for relevant plans.

Keywords Memory . Intention . Lexical-decision . Relevance

Prospective memory refers to the ability to realize an intended task at an appropriate moment in the future. A key feature of prospective memory tasks, such as passing on a message to a colleaguewhen seeing her, buyingmilk on one's way home, or attending the yearly routine check at the dentist, is that task execution is postponed for hours, days, or even weeks or months. During postponement, a representation of the intended taskmust be retained until an appropriate opportunity to fulfill the task occurs (e.g., Ellis, 1996). Previous research has shown that stimuli describing the actions intended for future enactment remain activated during postponement. The aim of the present research was testing whether this finding is more general, extending to all intention-relevant information, be it related to the execution of actions or not.

In 1993, Goschke and Kuhl introduced a paradigm for examining the accessibility of intention-relevant materials during postponement. Participants learned two short lists of actions (e.g., "setting a dinner table" and "clearing a messy desk") for a later recognition test. After the study phase, they were informed that they should carry out the actions of one list (prospective list), but not of the other list (neutral list), after a recognition test for both lists. In the recognition test, response latencies for verbs and nouns on the prospective list were shorter than latencies for the stimuli on the neutral list. The authors labeled this reaction-time advantage the intention-superiority effect. The intentionsuperiority effect has been replicated with a more direct measure of accessibility, a lexical-decision task (LDT; Marsh, Hicks, & Bink, 1998; Marsh, Hicks,& Bryan, 1999), and in a more naturalistic setting (Dockree & Ellis, 2001).

Different mechanisms underlying the intention-superiority effect have been discussed. For example, Goschke and Kuhl (1993) suggested that intentions are represented as subthreshold nodes in long-term memory that decay more slowly than more neutral contents. According to that view, a heightened accessibility of intention-related concepts is an intrinsic property of the representation of the intention. Alternatively, Freeman and Ellis (2003) proposed that motor or sensorimotor information associated with the future execution of actions is stored with the representation of the intention. Thus, the intention-superiority effect would be due to a rich multimodal representation of intentions, as compared with verbal representations (for similar reasoning, see, e.g., Engelkamp, 1997; Koriat, Ben-Zur, & Nussbaum, 1990). Finally, intentions are related to motivational states, and thus the strength of the intention may determine the accessibility of intention-related concepts (e. …

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