Prospective memory commission errors : unintentionally completing formerly held intentions

Pink, Jeffrey Edmond, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Dodson, Chad, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Nosek, Brian, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Willingham, Daniel, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Pepper, John, Department of Economics, University of Virginia

Prospective memory involves remembering to perform an action in the future, though there are many instances where it is necessary to remember not to perform an action. Mistakenly performing an action in the future is an error of commission, though the underlying mechanisms of these commission errors have yet to be determined. Two differing accounts of what causes an action to be mistakenly performed were examined-inhibitory failure and source confusion.

Experiment 1 examined the inhibitory failure account by having participants complete two phases of the experiment. In the first phase the participants either responded to prospective memory cues habitually or once. Participants then completed the second phase under full or divided attention. Commission errors only increased for participants who responded to the prospective cues routinely during the first phase when they were distracted during the subsequent phase. Therefore, attentional resources were required in order to inhibit making a prospective memory commission error.

Experiment 2 examined the two accounts using a cue salience manipulation. Cue salience was used to increase the difficulty of withholding a prospective response. The results of this experiment showed that when salient cues are used, there is also an increase in commission errors made by participants who only made a single prospective response during the first phase of the experiment, whether distracted or not during the second phase. These findings were opposite of what is predicted by the inhibitory failure account.

Experiment 3 directly assessed the source confusion account of commission errors. Specifically, whenever a prospective response was made during the second phase, the participants were required to indicate how accurate their response was. According to the source confusion account, commission errors occur because the individual mistakenly believes that former intentions are still relevant and need to be completed. However, the results indicate that participants were aware that making a prospective response to a previously relevant cue was likely to be inaccurate-the opposite of what is predicted by the source confusion account. Overall, the current investigation provided support for the inhibitory failure account of commission errors and no support for the source confusion account.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: