Everyday Prospective Memory

Our ethnographic study revealed the structure of prospective memory situations in the cockpit, but too few errors were observed for analysis. Review of accident and incident reports provided plentiful examples of errors, but did not provide access to the pilots involved. We recently completed a diary study of everyday prospective memory to explore the structure of these real-world tasks, to compare them to aviation prospective memory tasks, and to take advantage of individuals' abilities to report the nature of their intentions (Holbrook, Dismukes, & Nowinski, 2005). Eight participants, all with at least some graduate-level training in psychology and familiarity with prospective memory concepts, were used on the assumption that these individuals would be better able to recognize and describe prospective memory situations than untrained individuals. We recognize that our participants' reports are undoubtedly colored by their theoretical perspectives.

Participants were asked to record at least one prospective memory task in which they succeeded or failed each day for a week. Each participant received a digital voice recorder and worksheets with questions to elicit a detailed description of the intention, prior experience performing this type of intention, how the intention was encoded, length of retention interval, whether the intention came to mind during the retention interval, and the window of opportunity for executing the intention. Voice recorders were used to make brief notes at the time the intention was retrieved; these notes helped participants fill out the worksheets at the end of the day.

Sixty-nine worksheets were collected, describing 29 successes and 40 failures to perform an intended action during the intended period. The types of intentions reported fell into four categories: event-based episodic (e.g., buy toothpaste while at a drugstore), time-based episodic (e.g., take car to garage before 5 p.m.), habitual (close top of bottle of contact lens solution), and multiple component. The last category consists of intentions with multiple intended actions grouped under a superordinate goal, such as going to a store to buy several items. Failing to pick up one item of several might be viewed as a failure of the retrospective component of prospective memory in some situations, but in other situations it seemed clearly a problem with the prospective component. For example, one participant reported going to a store to buy an item, then thinking of additional items while at the store and buying those items, but forgetting to buy the item originally intended. Perhaps picking up the unplanned items induced a sense of having completed the intention and triggered the action schema of going to the cash register.

No habit intrusion errors were reported in this sample, although these were reported in the larger sample of another study of everyday tasks not discussed here. No failures of interleaving tasks or monitoring were reported, which may indicate that this type of task is less common in everyday affairs than in aviation or that monitoring failures are less likely to be noticed.

It is not likely that the relative proportion of successes and failures or the numbers of each type of prospective memory task reported in this study represent actual exposure. For example, success at habitual tasks, such as brushing one's teeth, are so common as to seem trivial, and were almost certainly underreported. Thus our analysis focuses on interrelations among variables described next.

Participants were asked to indicate which of four statements best described their encoding of each intention. Table 19.1 shows that most intentions were encoded in ways that did not fully specify the window of opportunity for executing the intention and did not identify specific cues that might be encountered to trigger retrieval of the intention. Intentions for which more specific information was encoded were more likely to be remembered (r = .34). (All correlations reported

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