Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Adult Age Differences in Interference from a Prospective-Memory Task: A Diffusion Model Analysis

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Adult Age Differences in Interference from a Prospective-Memory Task: A Diffusion Model Analysis

Article excerpt

Published online: 25 May 2013

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract People often slow down their ongoing activities when they must remember an intended action, known as the cost or interference effect of prospective memory (PM). Only a few studies have examined adult age differences in PM interference, and the specific reasons underlying such differences are not well understood. The authors used a model-based approach to reveal processes underlying PM interference and age differences in these processes. Older and younger adults first performed a block of an ongoing lexical decision task alone. An embedded event-based PM task was added in a second block. Simultaneously accounting for the changes in response time distributions and error rates induced by the PM task, Ratcliff's (Psychological Review 85:59-108, 1978) diffusion model was used to decompose the nonlinear combination of speed and accuracy into psychologically meaningful components. Remembering an intention not only reduced processing efficiency in both age groups, but also prolonged peripheral nondecision times and induced response cautiousness. Overall, the findings suggest that there are multiple, but qualitatively similar factors underlying PM task interference in both age groups.

Keywords Aging . Diffusion model . Prospective memory . Monitoring and attentional resources . Older adults

Prospective memory (PM) involves remembering intended actions after a delay, such as remembering to buy groceries after work. PM is essential for an independent lifestyle, particularly in old age (e.g., Schnitzspahn, Ihle, Henry, Rendell, & Kliegel, 2011). PM tasks involve the retrieval of information from the past (the retrospective component) and also require us to remember that there was something we intended to do (prospective component). Research on PM has largely focused on how intentions come into mind at the relevant moment and whether this process requires at- tentional resources. To address these questions in the labo- ratory, the PM task and target events (e.g., "remember to press the space bar when you see the word tiger")are embedded in an ongoing task (e.g., a lexical decision task [LDT]). One fairly pervasive finding is the cost or interfer- ence effect of PM (Smith, 2003). That is, response times (RTs) on nontarget trials of the ongoing task are often increased in the presence of a PM task, relative to performing the ongoing task alone. It has been proposed that interference indicates resources being devoted to mon- itoring (e.g., Guynn, 2003) or for preparatory attentional processes (Smith, 2003). Although there is debate as to whether these processes are necessary for all PM tasks, theoretical views concur that the prospective component involves resource-demanding processes leading to interfer- ence effects in nonfocal tasks. Nonfocal tasks require a shift from the processing routine during the ongoing task toward the relevant PM target features (see McDaniel, Einstein, & Rendell, 2008, for details) and show reliable age-related PM differences favoring young adults (e.g., Henry, MacLeod, Phillips, & Crawford, 2004). In the present study, we inves- tigated the cognitive processes underlying task interference and how these processes may vary in young and older adults.

Although interference is an important indicator of allo- cation of attention toward the PM task, the specific process- es giving rise to the slowing are not well understood. Thus, one important research goal is to identify processes that contribute to PM task interference. Moreover, a limitation to previous analyses of age-related differences in PM interfer- ence stems from scaling dependency and unequal baseline performance between young and older adults (Perfect & Maylor, 2000). That is, conclusions about task-induced changes in RTs between age groups (treatment × age in- teractions) are not meaningful if the assumption of a com- mon interval scale across age groups is violated, if the relationship between latent processes and RT is unclear, or if the nonlinearity of speed-accuracy functions is ignored (see Verhaeghen, 2000; Wagenmakers, Krypotos, Criss, & Iverson, 2012). …

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