Future thinking improves prospective memory performance and plan enactment in older adults

Mareike Altgassen, Peter G Rendell, Anka Bernhard, Julie D Henry, Phoebe E Bailey, Louise H Phillips, Matthias Kliegel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Citations (Scopus)


Abstract Efficient intention formation might improve prospective memory by reducing the need for resource-demanding strategic processes during the delayed performance interval. The present study set out to test this assumption and provides the first empirical assessment of whether imagining a future action improves prospective memory performance equivalently at different stages of the adult lifespan. Thus, younger (n = 40) and older (n = 40) adults were asked to complete the Dresden Breakfast task, which required them to prepare breakfast in accordance with a set of rules and time restrictions. All participants began by generating a plan for later enactment, however after making this plan, half of the participants were required to imagine themselves completing the task in the future (future thinking condition), while the other half received standard instructions (control condition). As expected, overall younger adults outperformed older adults. Moreover, both older and younger adults benefited equally from future thinking instructions, as reflected in a higher proportion of prospective memory responses and more accurate plan execution. Thus, for both younger and older adults, imagining the specific visual-spatial context in which an intention will later be executed may serve as an easy-to-implement strategy that enhances prospective memory function in everyday life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-204
Number of pages13
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sept 2014


  • ageing
  • prospective memory
  • future thinking
  • planning
  • imagery


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