Prior task experience and comparable stimulus exposure nullify focal and nonfocal prospective memory retrieval differences

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We explored the nature of focal versus nonfocal event-based prospective memory retrieval. In the context of a lexical decision task, people received an intention to respond to a single word (focal) in one condition and to a category label (nonfocal) for the other condition. Participants experienced both conditions, and their order was manipulated. The focal instruction condition was a single word presented multiple times. In Experiment 1, the stimuli in the nonfocal condition were different exemplars from a category, each presented once. In the nonfocal condition retrieval was poorer and reaction times were slower during the ongoing task as compared to the focal condition, replicating prior findings. In Experiment 2, the stimulus in the nonfocal condition was a single category exemplar repeated multiple times. When this single-exemplar nonfocal condition followed in time the single-item focal condition, focal versus nonfocal performance was virtually indistinguishable. These results demonstrate that people can modify their stimulus processing and expectations in event-based prospective memory tasks based on experience with the nature of prospective cues and with the ongoing task.

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Quarterly journal of experimental psychology (2006)

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