Monitoring in Prospective Memory
. . . it defines one of the challenges to explanations of prospective memory: What happens to allow recall to take place?
—Peter Morris, Aspects of Memory
he next three chapters consider the intriguing and central puzzle of how an intended action is activated at the appropriate window ofopportunity. By definition, prospective memory tasks are those in which remembering to recall is the primary challenge. Existing models of recall and recognition based on laboratory studies of memory focus on the processes that occur once a person has been explicitly prompted to remember. Thus, these models do not consider and address the retrieval process of most interest in prospectiveremembering. We need other theoretical approaches to help us understand prospective remembering. Fortunately, theorists have been fertile in developing ideas about how the cognitive system enables us to remember the intended action at the appropriate moment. These ideas fall into two broad classes: One class we will term attentional monitoring and the other we will term spontaneous retrieval. First we willdescribe the attentional monitoring approaches and
the associated evidence for these approaches. In the following chapter, we will consider the competing spontaneous retrieval approaches that account for prospective memory by more automatic, less strategic processes.
A widelyembraced view is that in order for the intended action to be performed at the appropriate moment, the environment must be monitored or checked for a signal. A hallmark of this view is the idea that the monitoring process exacts an attentional cost. That is, some attentional resources must be expended to monitor for a signal that indicates the intended response is appropriate. Further, theseattentional resources are deployed prior to the prospective memory response. In an informal and implicit sense, this is the view assumed when people draw negative conclusions about the conscientiousness of someone who forgets a prospective memory task. When a parent forgets to pick up his child from tennis practice, people wonder how the parent could be so irresponsible or lazy or care so little for hischild. This aspersion is based on the assumption that the person opted not to devote the required attentional resources to the prospective memory task. In one formal view, these attentional resources would be directed by a Supervisory Attentional System (Shallice & Burgess, 1991). So in a sense the criticism directed at the parent is that some supervisory (cognitive) processes that could have beenengaged for successful prospective memory have lapsed because of the “supervisor’s” laziness or misplaced priorities.
One influential and seminal monitoring model was proposed by Harris (1984; Harris & Wilkins, 1982), a pioneer in prospective memory research. Harris reasoned that the attentional costs of monitoring are sufficient to discourage continuous monitoring.Instead, he claimed, people only periodically evaluate whether the conditions are right for performing the intended activity. The dynamics of this periodic monitoring are captured by a procedure known as test-wait-test-exit (TWTE) (Miller, Galanter, & Pribram, 1960). Figure 2.1 provides a schematic of the TWTE process. The idea is that people will initially evaluate (test) early because the cost ofresponding late is high. Taking cookies out of the oven too late results in ruined cookies; remembering to tell your roommate that his girlfriend called to cancel their date only after the roommate has left results in an embarrassed and possibly angry roommate. Once the test reveals it is too
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