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Interrupting intentions: Zeigarnik-like effects in prospective memory


In two experiments, we examined the effects of task interruption on memory for intentions. Participants studied a series of anagrams, of which they solved one-half (Exp. 1) or two-thirds (Exp. 2), whereas the solution of the remaining items was interrupted by the experimenter. Furthermore, four anagrams (prospective cue items) differed from the remaining anagrams in that the third letter of each item was underlined. Participants were instructed to decide whether a subsequently presented (target) anagram contained the same or a different third letter as the underlined letter of the cue item. The results of both experiments showed Zeigarnik-like effects in prospective memory, so that cue items that were associated with interruption in the anagram task were better reminders than were items that were associated with completion. These findings suggest that interruption of an ongoing activity facilitates subsequent prospective memory performance, possibly by increasing the level of activation of the underlying intention representation that, in turn, increases the individual's sensitivity to identify the target event.

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Correspondence to T. Mäntylä.

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Mäntylä, T., Sgaramella, T. Interrupting intentions: Zeigarnik-like effects in prospective memory. Psychol. Res 60, 192–199 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00419767

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  • Memory Performance
  • Prospective Memory
  • Target Event
  • Ongoing Activity
  • Good Reminder