Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 1405–1415 | Cite as

Context cue focality influences strategic prospective memory monitoring

  • B. Hunter Ball
  • Julie M. Bugg
Brief Report


Monitoring the environment for the occurrence of prospective memory (PM) targets is a resource-demanding process that produces cost (e.g., slower responding) to ongoing activities. However, research suggests that individuals are able to monitor strategically by using contextual cues to reduce monitoring in contexts in which PM targets are not expected to occur. In the current study, we investigated the processes supporting context identification (i.e., determining whether or not the context is appropriate for monitoring) by testing the context cue focality hypothesis. This hypothesis predicts that the ability to monitor strategically depends on whether the ongoing task orients attention to the contextual cues that are available to guide monitoring. In Experiment 1, participants performed an ongoing lexical decision task and were told that PM targets (TOR syllable) would only occur in word trials (focal context cue condition) or in items starting with consonants (nonfocal context cue condition). In Experiment 2, participants performed an ongoing first letter judgment (consonant/vowel) task and were told that PM targets would only occur in items starting with consonants (focal context cue condition) or in word trials (nonfocal context cue condition). Consistent with the context cue focality hypothesis, strategic monitoring was only observed during focal context cue conditions in which the type of ongoing task processing automatically oriented attention to the relevant features of the contextual cue. These findings suggest that strategic monitoring is dependent on limited-capacity processing resources and may be relatively limited when the attentional demands of context identification are sufficiently high.


Prospective memory Attention Strategic monitoring Context Focality 


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

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

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