The effects of focal and nonfocal cues on the neural correlates of prospective memory: insights from ERPs

Cereb Cortex. 2014 Oct;24(10):2630-46. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht116. Epub 2013 May 3.


The present study is the first designed to investigate behavioral and event-related potential (ERP) correlates of the processes involved in focal and nonfocal prospective memory (PM) tasks. Focal tasks are those in which the features of the PM cue are easily extracted from the ongoing activity, whereas the process is more indirect in nonfocal tasks. Strategic monitoring was associated with a slowing of reaction times in ongoing trials and with frontal and parietal ERP modulations. These effects were greater in the nonfocal task, whereas they were smaller, or even absent for some individuals, in the focal task. This indicates that strategic monitoring is engaged to a greater extent in nonfocal tasks, whereas it is less extensively recruited, or not recruited at all by some individuals, in focal tasks. Indeed, the recognition of the PM cue might also occur automatically in focal tasks, as suggested by the FN400 increase in focal PM trials. Nonfocal tasks are supported by more controlled resources not only in retrieval, but also in postretrieval monitoring and coordinating processes. This was reflected in the enhancement of the prospective positivity and frontal slow wave observed in nonfocal PM trials. We interpreted these results as supporting the multiprocess view of PM.

Keywords: ERPs; cue focality; delayed intentions; prospective memory; strategic monitoring.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cues*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Reaction Time
  • Young Adult