Prospective Memory and Technology

Prospective memory refers for memory for actions to be taken in the future. In other words it refers to “memory to do things.” We shall identify three means of dealing with prospective memory: via mnemonic techniques, via low tech, or via high tech. There is a substantial literature on prospective memory, but in the pursuit of theoretical knowledge, to the best of my knowledge, these three techniques have not been employed in formal research.

Suppose you have a number of things you want to accomplish during the day. One method would be to use either the method of loci or the one bun rhyme mnemonic, both of which have been discussed in previous blogs, to remember what you needed to do. Another technique, the low tech technique would be to write these items down in a list or to use a daily planner. One study, however, found that 25% of the items in a daily planner were overlooked.1 The high tech solution would involve entering the to do list into a personal digital assistant (PDA)and perhaps adding an alarm alert. Pick whichever solution best fits your need. However, if something is of more than ordinary importance, then it is best to employ at least two methods. Memory, even aided by mnemonic techniques, can fail. Lists or daily planners can be lost or not consulted. PDAs can be forgotten or misplaced, and there is always the possibility of data entry failures.

Perhaps the most dramatic and depressing examples of prospective memory failures is when parents forget they have left their child in their car. The incidence of this has increased dramatically since the child has been relegated to the back seat as a result of the dangers from an expanding air bag in the front seat. There are stories of parents stopping by day care on their way home from work only to discover that they had forgotten to drop the child off in the morning and that their child had expired from the heat.

This a matter of out of sight out of mind. And this occurs even with a beloved child. The parent needs a reminder to drop off the child. The high tech solution here might be a PDA with an alert. Or perhaps future cars will offer this alert as an option. A low tech solution would be a written reminder in a conspicuous place. Mnemonic techniques could also work, but one should not rely on them alone. And there are explicit reminders one could employ, such as a string around the finger or the steering wheel, or a doll or hat placed in the empty front seat.

1, M.A., & Einstein, G. O. (2007).  Prospective Memory.  Sage Publications:  Thousand Oaks, CA.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Douglas] and [] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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