Prospective Memory in Context: Moving Through a Familiar Space

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Successful completion of delayed intentions is a common but important aspect of daily behavior. Such behavior requires not only memory for the intended action but also recognition of the opportunity to perform that action, known collectively as prospective memory. The fact that prospective memory tasks occur in the midst of other activities is captured in laboratory tasks by embedding the prospective memory task in an ongoing activity. In many cases the requirement to perform the prospective memory task results in a reduction in ongoing performance relative to when the ongoing task is performed alone. This is referred to as the cost to the ongoing task and reflects the allocation of attentional resources to the prospective memory task. The current study examined the pattern of cost across the ongoing task when the ongoing task provided contextual information that in turn allowed participants to anticipate when target events would occur within the ongoing task. The availability of contextual information reduced ongoing task response times overall, with an increase in response times closer to the target locations (Experiments 1–3). The fourth study, drawing on the Event Segmentation Theory, provided support for the proposal made by the Preparatory Attentional and Memory Processes theory of prospective memory that decisions about the allocation of attention to the prospective memory task are more likely to be made at points of transition.

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