Using interruptions to study associations in prospective memory
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Background: Prospective memory (ProM) consists of remembering that some action needs to be performed in the future and when (detecting the Intent Trigger), and what the action is (Recalling the Content of the trigger). The Intent Trigger is bound by a forward association to the Content Recall, and the Content Recall has a backward association to the intent Trigger. In situations which present multiple, interleaving ProM tasks to operators it is not known how subsequently-presented ProM tasks interfere with the associations between the Intent Trigger and Content Recall of the original ProM task. Objective: The current study investigated the effect of presenting multiple, interleaved ProM tasks on timely detection of the Intent Trigger and accurate Recall of the Content of the original ProM task. Method: Participants encoded a ProM task (AB) in an air traffic control simulation. They then were interrupted with a second ProM task. The ProM interruption task was different from the original ProM task in either the Intent Trigger (AB, CB), Content Recall (AB, AD), or both Intent Trigger and Content Recall (i.e., a new ProM task, AB, CD). A control condition involved interrupting the participant with a weather report. Results: Detection of the Intent Trigger was significantly worse after a ProM interruption as compared to a weather interruption; a similar pattern of results, but with marginal significance, was also found for Content Recall. Additionally, a ProM task that interfered with backward association (AB, CB) was no better or worse than doing two unrelated ProM tasks (AB, CD) on the detection of the Intent Trigger. However, a task that presented a new forward association (AB, AD) was worse than performing two unrelated ProM tasks (AB, CD) on Recall of the Content. The results are discussed in the context of designing memory aids to support interleaved ProM tasks in dynamic environments.