Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

The Impact of Emotion on Prospective Memory and Monitoring: No Pain, Big Gain

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

The Impact of Emotion on Prospective Memory and Monitoring: No Pain, Big Gain

Article excerpt

Published online: 26 July 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract The emotionally enhanced memory effect is robust across studies of retrospective memory, with heightened recall for items with emotional content (e.g., words like "murder") relative to neutral items (e.g., words like "envelope"). Only a handful of studies have examined the influence of emotion on prospective memory (PM), with mixed results. In some cases emotion enhances PM, and in others it impairs PM. Interpretation of these findings is clouded by methodological differences across studies and by the fact that, to date, no study has examined the impact of emotion on PM monitoring. In our study, we assessed PM performance when PM targets were neutral, negative, and positive, and also investigated monitoring across these different PM target types. Participants showed heightened PM performance for positive and negative relative to neutral targets, yet there was no evidence of additional monitoring for emotional targets. In fact, measures of monitoring were significantly reduced when the PM targets were emotional rather than neutral. Our findings suggest that it is possible to boost PM performance in a focal task using emotional cues, and that the use of emotional cues reduces the need for monitoring.

Keywords Prospectivememory*Emotion*Humanmemory

Prospective memory (PM) involves remembering to perform an intention at a certain point in the future (e.g., taking medication with a meal), and PM failures can be embarrassing (e.g., forgetting a social appointment) or even life threatening (e.g., forgetting to turn offthe oven). In the laboratory, PM investigations typically require that participants remember to execute a specific future intention (e.g., pressing a key when a target word appears) while simultaneously engaging in an ongoing task (e.g., lexical decision). Successful PM requires not only memory for the intention, but also the initiation of the act at the appropriate moment (e.g., Einstein, Holland, McDaniel, & Guynn, 1992; Einstein & McDaniel, 1996, 2005; Kliegel, McDaniel, & Einstein, 2000). Some intentions may need to be fulfilled when a certain event takes place (event-based PM), while others must occur at a specific time (time-based PM; e.g., Einstein & McDaniel, 2005). This study explored whether emotionally valenced cues improve event-based prospective remembering.

Researchers have recently begun to investigate whether emotion enhances cue saliency in a PM task, and consequently improves PM performance. A number of related findings have suggested that emotion should indeed boost cue saliency, as studies have shown that emotional targets are detected faster than neutral targets (e.g., Öhman, Flykt, & Esteves, 2001; Öhman, Lundqvist, & Esteves, 2001), that emotion can enhance visual processing (e.g., Phelps, Ling, & Carrasco, 2006), and that emotional items are remembered better than neutral items in a retrospective memory task (e.g., Buchanan & Adolphs, 2004; Cahill & McGaugh, 1995; Denburg, Buchanan, Tranel, & Adolphs, 2003; Grühn, Smith, & Baltes, 2005; Ochsner, 2000). One would expect, then, that emotion might increase the distinctiveness or saliency of a PM target, thereby improving target detection.

A handful of studies have examined the influence of emotion on PM performance, but the findings have been mixed (e.g., Altgassen, Phillips, Henry, Rendell, & Kliegel, 2010; Clark-Foos, Brewer, Marsh, Meeks, & Cook, 2009; Rendell et al., 2011). Unfortunately, methodological differences across these studies, along with limitations in some of the paradigms, prevent a clear understanding of the role of emotion in PM, particularly with respect to the influence that emotion might have on cue saliency. For example, Clark-Foos et al. found that PM performance was better when cues were positively rather than negatively valenced. However, they did not include a neutral baseline for comparison, and thus it was impossible to ascertain whether either positive or negative cues would have produced an advantage over neutral cues. …

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