Dissociable neural routes to successful prospective memory

Psychol Sci. 2013 Sep;24(9):1791-800. doi: 10.1177/0956797613481233. Epub 2013 Aug 1.


Identifying the processes by which people remember to execute an intention at an appropriate moment (prospective memory) remains a fundamental theoretical challenge. According to one account, top-down attentional control is required to maintain activation of the intention, initiate intention retrieval, or support monitoring. A diverging account suggests that bottom-up, spontaneous retrieval can be triggered by cues that have been associated with the intention and that sustained attentional processes are not required. We used a specialized experimental design and functional MRI methods to selectively marshal and identify each process. Results revealed a clear dissociation. One prospective-memory task recruited sustained activity in attentional-control areas, such as the anterior prefrontal cortex; the other engaged purely transient activity in parietal and ventral brain regions associated with attentional capture, target detection, and episodic retrieval. These patterns provide critical evidence that there are two neural routes to prospective memory, with each route emerging under different circumstances.

Keywords: cognitive neuroscience; memory.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Young Adult