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Implementation-intention encoding in a prospective memory task enhances spontaneous retrieval of intentions

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Although forming implementation intentions (Gollwitzer, 1999) has been demonstrated to generally improve prospective memory, the underlying cognitive mechanisms are not completely understood. It has been proposed that implementation-intention encoding encourages spontaneous retrieval (McDaniel & Scullin, 2010). Alternatively one could assume the positive effect of implementation-intention encoding is caused by increased or more efficient monitoring for target cues. To test these alternative explanations and to further investigate the cognitive mechanisms underlying implementation-intention benefits, in two experiments participants formed the intention to respond to specific target cues in a lexical decision task with a special key, but then had to suspend this intention during an intervening word-categorisation task. Response times on trials directly following the occurrence of target cues in the intervening task were significantly slower with implementation-intention encoding than with standard encoding, indicating that spontaneous retrieval was increased (Experiment 1). However, when activation of the target cues was controlled for, similar slowing was found with both standard and implementation-intention encoding (Experiment 2). The results imply that implementation-intention encoding as well as increased target–cue activation foster spontaneous retrieval processes.
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Keywords: Implementation intention; Prospective memory; Spontaneous retrieval

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Furman University, Greenville, SC, USA

Publication date: November 1, 2012

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