Investigating the effects of ongoing-task bias on prospective memory

Luke Strickland, Shayne Loft, Andrew Heathcote

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Event-based prospective memory (PM) refers to the cognitive processes required to perform a planned action upon encountering a future event. Event-based PM studies engage participants in an ongoing task (e.g., lexical decision-making) with an instruction to make an alternative PM response to certain items (e.g., items containing “tor”). The Prospective Memory Decision Control (PMDC) model, which provides a quantitative process account of ongoing-task and PM decisions, proposes that PM and ongoing-task processes compete in a race to threshold. We use PMDC to test whether, as proposed by the Delay Theory of PM costs, PM can be improved by biasing decision-making against a specific ongoing-task choice, so that the PM process is more likely to win the race. We manipulated bias in a lexical decision task with an accompanying PM intention. In one condition, a bias was induced against deciding items were words, and in another, a bias was induced against deciding items were non-words. The bias manipulation had little effect on PM accuracy but did affect the types of ongoing-task responses made on missed PM trials. PMDC fit the observed data well and verified that the bias manipulation had the intended effect on ongoing-task processes. Furthermore, although simulations from PMDC could produce an improvement in PM accuracy due to ongoing-task bias, this required implausible parameter values. These results illustrate the importance of understanding event-based PM in terms of a comprehensive model of the processes that interact to determine all aspects of task performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1495-1513
Number of pages19
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020


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