The impact of error-consequence severity on cue processing in importance-biased prospective memory

Cerebral Cortex Communications (forthcoming)
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Prospective memory (PM) enables people to remember to complete important tasks in the future. Failing to do so can result in consequences of varying severity. Here, we investigated how PM error-consequence severity impacts the neural processing of relevant cues for triggering PM and the ramification of that processing on the associated prospective task performance. Participants role-played a cafeteria worker serving lunches to fictitious students and had to remember to deliver an alternative lunch to students (as PM cues) who would otherwise experience a moderate or severe aversive reaction. Scalp-recorded, event-related potential (ERP) measures showed that the early-latency frontal positivity, reflecting the perception-based neural responses to previously learned stimuli, did not differ between the severe versus moderate PM cues. In contrast, the longer-latency parietal positivity, thought to reflect full PM cue recognition and post retrieval processes, was elicited earlier by the severe than the moderate PM cues. This faster instantiation of the parietal positivity to the severe-consequence PM cues was then followed by faster and more accurate behavioral responses. These findings indicate how the relative importance of a PM can be neurally instantiated in the form of enhanced and faster PM cue recognition and processing and culminate into better PM.

Author's Profile

Samuel Murray
Providence College


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