Psychophysiology of Prospective Memory


Prospective memory involves the self-initiated retrieval of an intention upon an appropriate retrieval cue. Cue identification can be considered as an orienting reaction and may thus trigger a psychophysiological response. Here we present two experiments in which skin conductance responses (SCRs) elicited by prospective memory cues were compared to SCRs elicited by aversive stimuli to test whether a single prospective memory cue triggers a similar SCR as an aversive stimulus. In Experiment 2 we also assessed whether cue specificity had a differential influence on prospective memory performance and on SCRs. We found that detecting a single prospective memory cue is as likely to elicit a SCR as an aversive stimulus. Missed prospective memory cues also elicited SCRs. On a behavioural level, specific intentions led to better prospective memory performance. However, on a psychophysiological level specificity had no influence. More generally, the results indicate reliable SCRs for prospective memory cues and point to psychophysiological measures as valuable approach, which offers a new way to study one-off prospective memory tasks. Moreover, the findings are consistent with a theory that posits multiple prospective memory retrieval stages.