Prospective memory is a person's ability to remember or fulfill a specific action in the future.  For example; meeting somebody at a specific time, remembering to take your medications at a specific time, or remembering to send someone a birthday card.  This is a fairly new and quickly growing area of research of memory that is due to its relevance to the memory problems we all experience in our daily life. 

Often times, when we complain about our memory, we find that we are more worried with our prospective memory than we are with our retrospective memory.  Retrospective memory is when we remember information that has already occurred or that we already know such as; the name of an acquaintance, or their phone number or address.

Two groups have been deemed to be the ones that are most vulnerable to failures in the prospective memory.  These two groups consist of; elderly people, and people who have had damage to their frontal lobe.  It has been said that they lack the self-initiating processes that trigger the prospective memory.  This is why most of the testing in this field consists of these two groups.

Prospective forgetting is greatly influenced by the person's motivation.  We are more likely to forget things that we view as unimportant, unpleasant, or boring.  On the other hand, we are less likely to forget what we find to be pleasurable or important to us.

Although there has been great progress in the past 15 years in prospective memory research, there has also been several controversies that center on the characteristics and the numbers of different processes of retrieval and the effects of aging.  One such controversy points to the exact number and characteristics there are in different types of prospective memory. 

In a test conducted in 1996, by Dr. E. McDaniel, he claims there are only two unique types of prospective memory, these are events and tasks that are based on time.  However, L. Kvavilashvili and J. Ellis proposed a model stating that we should also notice an activity based task on prospective memory, meaning remembering to do a certain activity after finishing a task we may be doing.  This is differing from the event and time tasks of McDaniel's study as it has no requirement for interrupting an activity and they believe it would be easier to remember this than it would be to remember the event and time tasks.  They set out to prove this by studying the various effects that each task would have using elderly and young test subjects.  Kvavilashvili and Ellis had two hypotheses.  The first was that the best performance rate would be achieved in any activity based task.  The second was that elderly people's performance in an event or activity based task would be equal to their younger counterparts, but would be much worse on any time-based task.

Yet another controversy pertains to the inconsistent results of the effects that age has on event-based tasks, such as when something cues you to perform a certain task upon seeing something pertaining to that task, as in remembering to deposit your check when you drive by a bank.  McDaniel has failed to observe the differing ages of his subjects in any of his tests.  However, in tests conducted by Dr. Maylor and Dr. Mantyla there was a significant difference in the performance of the different age groups.  In McDaniel's research, unlike other studies, adjustments were made in difficulty for the varying age groups, in the tasks where prospective memory would be imbedded.

One way to possibly resolve this controversy would be to conduct a test in which the background activity would be the same for both the young and old subjects.  It is believed that this increase in background activity would effect the older subjects more than it would the younger.

The last controversy deals with the inconsistent findings on effects that age has on time-based tasks, for example; attending a meeting in the late afternoon.  Although no age effects have been discovered in McDaniel's study outside the laboratory, there have been significant effects discovered in studies conducted in the laboratory.

I personally have difficulty with prospective and retrospective memory due to the fact that I had to undergo Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), also known as shock therapy.  The reason I went through ECT treatments is due to the fact that I have both bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder.  I find that I often forget to send a birthday card or remember to call someone in the evening.  Also, very often I forget to take my medications which are scheduled for three times a day and in an organized reminder case.   I always remember after the fact and that bothers me to some degree.  However, having mental stability and sacrificing my memory for that stability seems to work well for me.  Family members and friends realize that I have memory problems and forgive me for such forgetfulness, and I am very grateful for all of them.


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