Prospective memory: A new focus for research

Consciousness and Cognition 10 (4):437-450 (2001)

Abstract

Prospective memory is required for many aspects of everyday cognition, its breakdown may be as debilitating as impairments in retrospective memory, and yet, the former has received relatively little attention by memory researchers. This article outlines a strategy for changing the fortunes of prospective memory, for guiding new research to shore up the claim that prospective memory is a distinct aspect of cognition, and to obtain evidence for clear performance dissociations between prospective memory and other memory functions. We begin by identifying the unique requirements of prospective memory tasks and by dividing memory's prospective functions into subdomains that are analogous to divisions in retrospective memory (e.g., short- versus long-term memory). We focus on one prospective function, called prospective memory proper; we define this function in the spirit of James (1890) as requiring that we are aware of a plan, of which meanwhile we have not been thinking, with the additional consciousness that we made the plan earlier. We give an operational definition of prospective memory proper and specify how it differs from explicit and implicit retrospective memory and how it might be empirically assessed.

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