Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Response Dynamics in Prospective Memory

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Response Dynamics in Prospective Memory

Article excerpt

Published online: 19 November 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Prospective memory (PM) is the ability to remember to execute a delayed behavior. Most theoretical and empirical work on PM has focused on the attentional resources that might facilitate successfully executing a delayed behavior. In the present study, we enhance the current understanding of attention allocation and also introduce novel evidence for the dynamics of PM retrieval. We recorded mouse-tracking trajectories during a prospective memory task to examine the continuous nature of attentional processes that support PM cue retrieval. We found that the velocity profiles of response trajectories differed as a function of PM cue focality while controlling for the canonical measure of response time, supporting the notions that monitoring is evident in the continuous nature of response trajectories and that such trajectories are sensitive to cue focality. Conditional velocity profiles of ongoing task trials indicated that monitoring occurred when the processing of PM cues differed from ongoing task instructions (Nonfocal PM condition): responses were made later in the profile, suggestive of a more controlled retrieval process. Analysis of PM cue retrieval profiles indicated correctly retrieved Focal PM cues were qualitatively and quantitatively different from all other PM cue retrieval trials. This provides evidence that retrieval dynamics of a delayed behavior differ as a function of cue focality and suggests that controlled processing may contribute to spontaneous retrieval of a PM task.

Keywords Prospective memory . Mouse-tracking . Temporal dynamics


Prospective memory (PM) is the ability to remember to execute delayed intentions. Examples of PM include remembering to pay a bill before the due date and remembering to take medication at a certain time in the day. One debated question is the amount of attention required for successful PM. Previous work suggests that successful PM retrieval is supported by processes such as attentional monitoring (Smith, 2003), cue-driven spontaneous retrieval (Einstein & McDaniel, 2005), or a dynamic combination of both processes (Scullin, McDaniel, & Shelton, 2013). In the present study, we introduce a new method for examining the various processes potentially facilitating PM performance.

In the more commonly used laboratory PM paradigm, participants complete an ongoing task in the first block of a two-block experiment. After completing the first block, but before the second block, participants either continue with the ongoing task alone or continue with the ongoing task with the additional instruction that if some specified event occurs (i.e., PM cue), they are to make a particular response. This affords examination of the amount of attention required for different PM task conditions. Typically, this inquiry is informed by identifying average response time (RT) differences between block 1 and block 2 for the different PM task conditions. If RT is higher in block 2 for conditions where a PM task was provided, then PM researchers infer that additional attentional costs occurred beyond those required for the ongoing task (Smith, 2003).

Two different processes that might support PM retrieval are attentional monitoring and spontaneous retrieval. Attentional monitoring (henceforth, monitoring) during a PM task refers to an effortful maintenance of the PM intention to attend to cues in the environment that indicate when the PM response should be made (Smith, 2003). Monitoring is typically evidenced by longer RTs and/or lower accuracy for ongoing task performance when a PM task is activated. The preparatory attentional and memory (PAM) processes view of PM (Smith, 2003) proposes that PM performance cannot rely solely on automatic processing, and, thus, attentional processes are required for successful PM performance. Therefore, according to the PAM view, longer RTs should accompany successful PM retrieval. …

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