Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

A Diffusion Model Analysis of Task Interference Effects in Prospective Memory

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

A Diffusion Model Analysis of Task Interference Effects in Prospective Memory

Article excerpt

Published online: 14 July 2011

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2011

Abstract Holding an intention often interferes with other ongoing activities, indicating that resource-demanding processes are involved in maintaining the intention and noticing the appropriate event to fulfill it. Little is known, however, about the nature of the processes underlying this task interference effect. The goal of the present research was to decompose the processes contributing to the task interference effect by applying the diffusion model (Ratcliff, Psychological Review 85:59-108, 1978) to an event-based prospective memory task. In the first experiment, we validated the interpretation of the response criterion parameter (a) of the diffusion model as reflecting strategies to cope with the anticipated demands of a prospective memory task in the context of the ongoing task. The second experiment served to investigate which underlying processes contribute to the task interference often found with prospective memory tasks. Diffusion model analyses revealed that the task interference effect was due to (1) less efficient processing in the more demanding than in the less demanding prospective memory task and (2) a more conservative response criterion. We suggest that the anticipated demands and the additional processing demands of the prospective memory task jointly contribute to the task interference effect.

Keywords Prospective memory. Diffusion model . Task interference effect

The cognitive processes involved in remembering to perform an action in the future upon the occurrence of a certain event (e.g., giving your coworker a message when you see them) are typically subsumed under the rubric of event-based prospective memory (PM). Unlike retrospective memory tasks, event-based PM tasks not only require the retrieval of the intended action (e.g., giving the message) but also noticing the event associated with the intention (i.e., seeing your coworker) and remembering that something needs to be done. The latter requirement is especially critical in PM tasks, because people are typically busily engaged in some other ongoing activity (e.g., writing a report) when the event occurs. This additional requirement of noticing the event and retrieving the intention has sparked considerable research aimed at disentangling the processes involved in PM performance. It has been argued that different kinds of processes, such as resourcedemanding processes and rather effortless (spontaneous) processes, can contribute to the observable PM performance (cf. McDaniel & Einstein, 2000, 2007). While the group of spontaneous processes has been differentiated further-for example, in terms of discrepancy-plus-search processes and reflexive-associative retrieval processes (Breneiser & McDaniel, 2006; Guynn & McDaniel, 2007; McDaniel, Guynn, Einstein, & Breneiser, 2004; Meier, Zimmermann, & Perrig, 2006; see also McDaniel & Einstein, 2007, for an overview)-little is known about the nature of the resource-demanding processes in PM. Generally, holding an intention has been shown to interfere with the performance of other ongoing activities, and this task interference effect is usually interpreted as evidence for the involvement of resource-demanding processes. The task interference effect has been interpreted as reflecting cue monitoring, preparatory attention, or a strategic allocation of resources in favor of the PM task (cf. McDaniel & Einstein, 2007), but we are aware of only one study that has aimed at further differentiating the processes contributing to the task interference effect (Guynn, 2003).

Task interference from event-based intentions

In order to study event-based PM in the laboratory, participants are usually presented with an ongoing task that continuously requires responses (e.g., a lexical decision task). Within this task, PM cues are embedded to which participants are instructed to respond with a special action (e. …

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