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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Prospective memory, a distinct form of remembering? : subtitle evidence from task comparisons and normal aging Birt, Angela R.


Until recently, memory research focused primarily on memory for information and experiences from the past (retrospective memory). However, memory also is important for remembering to do things in the future (prospective memory). Research on prospective memory is relatively new and has yet to address many pertinent issues. This dissertation had two main objectives: (1) examine core similarities and differences between prospective and retrospective memory and test the claim that prospective remembering is functionally distinct, and (2) investigate age differences in prospective memory test performance and their relation to age differences in performance on different types of retrospective memory tests. The nature of the relationship between prospective and retrospective memory was assessed with two quantitative literature reviews. Analysis of 148 prospective-retrospective memory task comparisons revealed many similar effects. Nevertheless, prospective memory test performance was more closely related to performance on some episodic retrospective memory tests than others. A meta-analysis of 96 young-old age difference effect sizes revealed age-related prospective memory declines comparable to those observed with episodic retrospective tasks, but the magnitude of age differences varied with task characteristics. Both quantitative reviews highlighted the large variability in the research. Next, a controlled laboratory experiment compared prospective and retrospective memory performance of 66 older (mean=75 yrs.) and 66 younger (mean=20 yrs.) adults. Matching prospective and retrospective test properties (e.g., cues, response type, context) enabled, for the first time, direct comparison of, and closer examination of age-related differences in, prospective memory tasks, retrospective memory tasks that decline with age (explicit cued recall and recognition), and a retrospective task that shows little decline (implicit word completion). Results indicated episodic prospective memory was not related to implicit memory, but was positively related to the tests of explicit memory. Self-rated prospective memory and individual differences in performance also were explored. Findings are discussed in relation to theoretical views of prospective memory and of aging. Although the results indicate that prospective memory is not a distinct form of memory, it appears to be a special application of explicit, episodic memory retrieval and is unique in the same way that free recall, cued recall, and recognition are unique activities of memory.

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