Animal Cognition

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 349–358 | Cite as

Prospective memory in the rat

  • A. George Wilson
  • Jonathon D. Crystal
Original Paper


The content of prospective memory is comprised of representations of an action to perform in the future. When people form prospective memories, they temporarily put the memory representation in an inactive state while engaging in other activities, and then activate the representation in the future. Ultimately, successful activation of the memory representation yields an action at an appropriate, but temporally distant, time. A hallmark of prospective memory is that activation of the memory representation has a deleterious effect on current ongoing activity. Recent evidence suggests that scrub jays and non-human primates, but not other species, are capable of future planning. We hypothesized that prospective memory produces a selective deficit in performance at the time when rats access a memory representation but not when the memory representation is inactive. Rats were trained in a temporal bisection task (90 min/day). Immediately after the bisection task, half of the rats received an 8-g meal (meal group) and the other rats received no additional food (no-meal group). Sensitivity to time in the bisection task was reduced as the 90-min interval elapsed for the meal group but not for the no-meal group. This time-based prospective-memory effect was not based on response competition, an attentional limit, anticipatory contrast, or fatigue. Our results suggest that rats form prospective memories, which produces a negative side effect on ongoing activity.


Prospective memory Prospection Comparative cognition Animal model Rat 



This work was supported by National Institute of Mental Health grant R01MH080052 to JDC. We thank our colleague, the late Rich Marsh–scholar of prospective memory–for encouraging this work. We thank four anonymous reviewers for constructive criticism.

Conflict of interest

The experiments complied with the current laws of country in which they were performed. The authors declare no conflict of interests.

Supplementary material

10071_2011_459_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (11 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 11 kb)
10071_2011_459_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (10 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 9 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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