Memory & Cognition

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 47–62 | Cite as

Hey buddy, why don’t we take it outside: An experience sampling study of prospective memory

  • Francis T. AndersonEmail author
  • Mark A. McDaniel


Relatively little research has focused on how prospective memory (PM) operates outside of the laboratory, partially due to the methodological problems presented by naturalistic memory research in general and by the unique challenges of PM in particular. Experience sampling methods (ESM) offer a fruitful avenue for this type of research, as recent work from Gardner and Ascoli (Psychology and Aging, 30, 209-219, 2015) has shown. They found that people thought about PM around 15% of the time, and that future thinking was more common than past thinking. In two studies, we replicated our own findings and those reported by Gardner and Ascoli. To summarize, people think about the future more often than the past (30% compared to 13%), and PM occupies our thoughts approximately 13–15% of the time, supporting claims made by some researchers that our episodic memory systems are forward-looking (Klein in Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 2, 222-234, 2013). Of those PM thoughts, participants reported that 61% were internally cued, rather than externally triggered. Through the use of multi-level modeling, we additionally found that PM thoughts were more likely when the respondant was alone than with people, and earlier in the day. Finally, we found that participants higher in neuroticism were more likely to report thinking of PM, and that this was driven entirely by the anxiety facet. Most generally, we hope to have demonstrated the value of ESM to help researchers investigate and understand naturalistic PM.


Prospective memory Experience sampling ESM Momentary thoughts Future thoughts 



We would like to thank our research assistant Xavier Bravo for assistance collecting data, Gil Einstein for brainstorming discussions, and help with statistical analyses from Josh Jackson and his lab (specifically, Leah Schultz and Emorie Beck) and Mike Strube.


The lead author (Francis Anderson) was supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, grant DGE-1745038.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesWashington UniversitySt. LouisUSA

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