The role of dual-task and task-switch in prospective memory: behavioural data and neural correlates

Neuropsychologia. 2009 Apr;47(5):1362-73. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.01.034. Epub 2009 Feb 2.


Event-based prospective memory (PM) requires remembering the delayed execution of an intended action in response to a pre-specified PM cue while being actively engaged in an ongoing task in which the cue is embedded. To date, experimental paradigms vary as to whether or not they require participants immediately to stop working on the ongoing task whenever they encounter a PM event (cue) and directly switch to the prospective action (task-switch approach). Alternatively, several other paradigms used in the literature encourage participants to continue working on the ongoing task item after the cue, and only then, perform the prospective action (dual-task approach). The present study explores the possible behavioural and electrophysiological effects that both approaches may have on PM performance. Seventeen young adults performed both versions of a standard PM task in a counterbalanced order during which behavioural data and electroencephalogram (EEG) were recorded. Behavioural data showed a decrement in PM performance in the task-switch compared to the dual-task condition. In addition, EEG data revealed differences between the dual-task and task-switch approach in event-related potential (ERP) components associated with response inhibition and with post-retrieval monitoring (i.e. late positive complex). No differences between the two tasks were found with regard to the PM event detection processes (i.e. N300) and the retrieval of the intended action from long-term memory. In sum, findings demonstrate that it does make a difference which task approach is applied and suggest that dual-task and task-switch paradigms may result in different processing and neurophysiological dynamics particularly concerning attentional resources and cognitive control.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Time Factors