Posts Tagged ‘Prospective Memory’

A Cognitive Safety Net

January 22, 2012

Prospective memory is the memory “to do” list, that is the memory to do things. A number of Healthymemory Blog posts have addressed failures of prospective memory, some which have been personally embarrassing (“An Embarrassing Failure of Prospective Memory, and “Another Embarrassing Failure of Prospective Memory”), and others that are quite tragic (“Prospective Memory and Technology”), such as leaving a child unattended for a day in a car and returning to find that the child has died. Atul Gawande is a surgeon who has addressed the problems of medical errors during surgery. These errors are documented in his book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Frightening numbers of surgical errors have been taking place every year without being systematically addressed. Dr. Gawande and his fellow researchers have addressed them and come up with a solution that markedly reduces these errors, but only if it is employed. That is the World Health Organization (WHO) safe surgery checklist.

The solution is the humble checklist. Unfortunately, the checklist is too humble, resulting in it being ignored by highly esteemed professionals, such as surgeons. The checklist encompasses both types of transactive memory. It is an external prompt, which can employ one of the simplest technologies, ink or graphite on paper. It also encompasses the social aspect of transactive memory, the memories of fellow human beings. Although checklists can be used by single individuals, it is also frequently used by duets or teams, with each party being responsible for different items on the checklist. For example, a surgical team will introduce themselves to each other and identify the portions of the checklist for which they are responsible. Gawande also gives a detailed account of how checklists were used by Captain “Sully” Sullenberger and his crew in safely landing their airliner in the East River.

It is clear that I need to get my personal house in order and start using checklists. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right is highly recommended. It is both entertaining and informative, although perhaps a bit scary in its documentation of medical errors. But reading this book could save your life if you inquire whether they are going to use the World Health Organization (WHO) safe surgery checklist during your surgery. This checklist can be found at

As for checklist applications, searches indicate that a variety are available. If you have any experience with these APPS, please leave comments.

Another Embarrassing Failure of Prospective Memory

May 18, 2010

Readers of the Healthymemory Blog will remember that prospective memory is the memory to do things. Readers might also remember an earlier posting “An Embarrassing Failure of Prospective Memory.” This posting related the story of my forgetting a breakfast appointment with the Dean of the College of Behavioral Sciences. Readers of this blog should also remember that transactive memory refers to external storage of memories, be they on the internet, in a book, or on a calendar or list. I was so confident that I would remember breakfast with the dean that it did not provide any reminders of the appointment anywhere and consequently forgot the appointment. It was this overconfidence in my personal memory that led to this embarrassment.

I’ve just returned from an Alaskan Cruise with my wife. I had planned to take my blue blazer and my college jacket with me. Moreover, I had imagined placing both the blazer and the jacket in my bag when I thought about packing for the trip. We packed and left for the motel. The motel was a park and fly motel that solves the parking problem and also provides for extra winks for an early morning flight. When we unpacked in the motel, I was amazed not to find either the blue blazer or the jacket. I was certain that I had packed them. This was another example of overconfidence in personal memory. Unfortunately, imagining that you are doing something can be confused with actually doing it. Apparently that was what happened in this instance.

The remedy for this is another instance of transactive memory, a checklist. Unfortunately, I am not much of a list maker. There was a serendipitous end to this story. There was time to go to a mall and shop for the missing items. I ended up getting a fine sports coat and a fine jacket, as well as good prices on both. So sometime failures of prospective can be beneficial. However, others can be disastrous. See the blog posting, “Prospective Memory and Technology.” There you will find accounts of parents going to pick up their children only to discover that they had forgotten to drop them off. Under certain conditions, these children died.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2010. 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 Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content