Imagine coming home from grocery shopping during corona restrictions. You grab a snack and right before you notice: You didn’t wash your hands! Even though you thought about it many times on the way home. Now it’s better to go to the sink and grab some soap first!
Ever wondered why you forget to do things although they are really important? These mistakes are the consequence of prospective memory failure. Prospective Memory (PM) is the ability to “remember to remember”¹ , – you intend to do something later during the day, and on the right moment you need to remind yourself to actually do it. Our everyday lives are actually full of PM demands and now there are even more with the corona hygiene instructions.
Currently, researchers are studying PM to understand how it works and what can enhance PM to reduce failure. Especially, the consequences of PM failure can be detrimental. Forgetting to wash your hands and contracting the corona virus would be one up-to-date example.
There are many factors influencing PM performance and one of them is social importance. By explaining that the intended action is important for somebody else, PM performance could be enhanced. By not contracting the virus, you would not put your vulnerable family and friends at risk. But do you really remember better to wash your hands after realizing it’s importance for your environment? We asked the same question in our ongoing study. Social importance was manipulated by telling one group of participants that their performance is especially important for the success of the research, whereas the other group received standard instructions not highlighting the importance. Results are still awaited, but previous research indicates an existing link.
It can be useful to become aware of our own prospective memory, notably during a global pandemic!
¹ Dismurks (2012) Prospective Memory in Workplace and Everyday Situations