Dismantling the “age–prospective memory paradox”: the classic laboratory paradigm simulated in a naturalistic setting

Phoebe E. Bailey, Julie D. Henry, Peter G. Rendell, Louise Phillips, Matthias Kliegel

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49 Citations (Scopus)


Previous research has identified othe age-prospective memory paradoxothat adult ageing results in reliably poorer performance on laboratory-based tasks of prospective memory (PM), but improved performance on such tasks carried out in real-life settings. We hypothesized that even in their everyday environment, older adults might be worse at PM tasks that are triggered during an experimenter-generated ongoing activity. The present study used a task that captured the key features of the classic laboratory paradigm, but which was completed in a setting that met key criteria to be considered naturalistic. In their everyday setting, participants' PM was assessed, with the cue to remember occurring either (a) during their day-to-day activities, or (b) during an experimenter-generated ongoing task. The results confirmed previous naturalistic findings, in showing that older adults (n = 28) exhibited better PM than their younger counterparts (n = 65) when prompted during their everyday activities. However, older adults were also then subsequently less likely to show effective PM during experimenter-generated ongoing activity. Reproducing the paradox within a single dataset, these data indicate that older adults can effectively act on intentions during everyday activities, but have difficulty in prospective remembering during experimenter-generated ongoing tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)646-652
Number of pages7
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • prospective memory
  • old age
  • memory
  • ecological validity
  • dementia
  • age


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