Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Discrepancy-Plus-Search Processes in Prospective Memory Retrieval

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Discrepancy-Plus-Search Processes in Prospective Memory Retrieval

Article excerpt

Abstract In the present study, we investigated the processes underlying prospective memory (PM) retrieval, focusing specifically on two possible spontaneous processes: discrepancy-plus-search and familiarity. Discrepancy was elicited by orthogonally manipulating the processing difficulties of the PM targets and the nontargets. Participants performed a PM task while solving anagrams with two levels of difficulty (easy or difficult). Assuming that the ease of processing easy anagrams would heighten a sense of familiarity, the familiarity view predicted better PM performance with easy anagrams as the PM targets. In contrast, the discrepancy-plus-search view predicted higher PM performance for the PM targets that were anagrams whose difficulty level mismatched that of the surrounding nontargets, as compared to PM targets whose difficulty matched that of the surrounding nontargets. This prediction was based on the idea that mismatching rather than matching difficulty levels would create discrepancy, thereby signaling significance for the target. Participants were more likely to perform the PM task for PM targets that were discrepant, supporting the discrepancy-plus-search view.

Keywords Memory . Prospective memory . Spontaneous retrieval . Discrepancy . Familiarity

Prospective memory (PM) refers to remembering to perform intended actions in the future, such as remembering to deliver a message to a colleague. An event-based PM task is defined as performing an intended action when a PM target appears and signals that it is the appropriate time to do so. Often, to perform an event-based PM task (e.g., delivering a message when one sees a colleague), one has to recognize that a stimulus (the colleague's face) is a PM target and retrieve the appropriate PM intention (a need to deliver the message). Notice that one has to recognize the PM target and retrieve the PM intention while being busily engaged in the ongoing activity (conversing with other colleagues) without any explicit retrieval request for PM. A key theoretical issue in the PM literature thus turns on the processes underlying the recognition of the PM target and the retrieval of the PM intention.

According to the multiprocess theory (McDaniel & Einstein, 2000, 2007; McDaniel, Guynn, Einstein, & Breneiser, 2004), strategic monitoring processes may support PM performance under some circumstances (e.g., when the importance of PM task is emphasized (Kliegel, Martin, McDaniel, & Einstein, 2001) or when the PM task context is specified (Cook, Marsh, & Hicks, 2005)). The theory also proposes that relatively spontaneous processes may support PM performance under other circumstances (for elaboration, see Einstein et al., 2005; McDaniel & Einstein, 2007; Scullin, McDaniel, Shelton, & Lee, 2010). The present study was designed to explore two spontaneous (nonstrategic) processes that have been proposed to contribute to PM retrieval.

One spontaneous process that could support PMretrieval is familiarity. According to McDaniel (1995), an item with high familiarity may be recognized as significant (similar to context-free recognition; cf. Mandler, 1980), thereby stimulating a search for the source of that significance. This search may in turn lead to or facilitate retrieval of the PM intention. Briefly, there are several reasons why PMtargets may provide relatively high levels of familiarity. One is that encoding of events (items) as PM targets increases the activation of those items, as compared to nontargets. Consequently, during the subsequent PM task the higher activation of PM targets relative to the nontargets confers higher familiarity to the targets (McDaniel, 1995). Another factor that could increase familiarity for PM targets is ease of processing (Jacoby, 1983; Jacoby & Dallas, 1981; Jacoby & Whitehouse, 1989; Lindsay & Kelley, 1996). According to Jacoby and his colleagues, the ease of processing a stimulus is often interpreted as a basis for familiarity. …

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