Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Prospective memory (PM) refers to memory for future intentions (e.g. remembering to press a button when you see an animal word). Researchers classify PM intentions in the laboratory as focal or nonfocal primarily in two ways. One way, task-appropriateness, refers to how the processing for the intention relates to the processing required for an ongoing task; the PM intention and the ongoing task either match in processing (TAP; focal) or mismatch in processing (TIP; nonfocal). The second way researchers classify focality is based on cue specificity, with the PM task either being specific (focal) or general (nonfocal). Resolving this ambiguity in defining “focality” is the focus of the current research. These two experiments compared the roles of cue specificity and task-appropriateness in PM focality. Participants were randomly assigned to a control group, a focal PM condition (TAP/Specific), or one of three nonfocal conditions (TAP/General; TIP/Specific; TIP/General). Their ongoing task required them to make a semantic judgment (Experiment 1) or an orthographic judgment (Experiment 2). Cue specificity impacted PM accuracy consistently, favoring specific cues. Task-appropriateness impacted PM accuracy in Experiment 1 as predicted, but not in Experiment 2 which showed protective effects for specific, whole-word PM cues. Ongoing task performance mostly followed predicted patterns (no differences for ongoing task accuracy) and suggested ex-gaussian analyses offered a nuanced measure of RT data. These studies highlight the existing ambiguity in the operational definition of focality and provide the groundwork for a clear definition of focality centered around cue specificity and task-appropriateness.



Committee Chair

Hicks, Jason