Research Article: Event versus activity-based cues and motivation in school-related prospective memory tasks

Date Published: April 19, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Ana B. Cejudo, Mark A. McDaniel, M. Teresa Bajo, Sam Gilbert.


Prospective memory (PM), the ability to remember an intention in the future, is essential to children’s everyday lives. We explored age differences (6- to 7- vs. 10- to 11-year-olds) in PM depending on the nature of the task and the children’s motivation. Children performed event-based PM tasks (in which the cue was presented during the ongoing activity) and activity-based PM tasks (in which the cue consisted of finishing the ongoing activity). Additionally, the children were assigned to either a reward condition or a no-reward condition. The results showed better performance in event than in activity based tasks, with older children outperforming younger children in both. There was a marginal effect of reward for PM accuracy. These patterns suggest that the cue detection process and children’s motivation play a role in PM performance during development.

Partial Text

Prospective memory (PM) is the ability to remember a delayed intention. Forgetting to complete intentions could affect school-age children’s academic performance (e.g., forgetting to bring their homework to school) and social relationships (e.g., forgetting to give back a friend’s book). In PM, delayed intentions have to be remembered in response to particular contextual situations [1]. In event-based PM tasks, retrieval of an intention requires a trigger of an associated memory from some external cue (e.g., remembering to buy bread when passing the grocery store on the way home). In contrast, in time-based PM tasks, the person intends to perform a task at a specific time, within a specific time period or when a period of time has elapsed (e.g., remembering to buy bread before 8 p.m., when the grocery store closes). Finally, activity-based tasks require that intentions be retrieved and executed upon completing other tasks (e.g., remembering to buy bread after buying vegetables from the fruit stall). Successful completion of a PM task requires remembering an intention (e.g., press a key when red words appear on a screen) while performing another ongoing task (OT; e.g., answering general knowledge questions). In addition, at the appropriate moment or when the prospective cue appears, the person must stop performing the OT to instead perform the intention [2,3].

To test that the OT difficulty was successfully adjusted to each age group and to explore whether the type of cue (event vs. activity) or motivation influenced the OT completion times (measured in seconds), a 2 (type of task: event vs. activity) x 2 (motivation: reward vs no reward) x 2 (age: 6–7 vs. 10–11) mixed ANOVA was performed on the completion times for the OT. The results of the analysis showed a significant effect of motivation (Table 1), F (1, 111) = 7.08, MSe = 15473.51, p< 0.01, ηp2 = 0.06, indicating that the children in the reward group performed faster (M = 384.82, SD = 11.88) than the children in the no reward group (M = 428.75, SD = 11.47). All other effects and interactions were not significant: type of task x motivation, F (1, 111) = 1.14, p = 0.29, age, type of task x age, age x motivation, and type of task x age x motivation (Fs< 1). These results show that, although children in the reward group performed the OT faster than children in the no reward group, the type of cue did not influence OT completion-time performance. More relevant, no age differences were found in the completion times for OT performance, indicating that the OT was properly adapted to each age. We explored whether age differences in remembering an intention were modulated by the type of PM task (activity- vs. event-based) and by children’s motivation. The idea was that children would perform event-based PM tasks better than activity-based tasks in line with previous results with pre-school children and adults [8,10]. We also expected that motivation would increase performance and that age differences would be more evident in more difficult conditions (activity-based tasks) and when the children were not motivated. The results partially supported our expectations.   Source:


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