You plan on shopping for groceries later and you tell yourself that you have to remember to take the grocery bags with you when you leave the house. Lo and behold, you reach the check-out counter and you realize you've forgotten the bags.
Remembering to remember - whether it's grocery bags, appointments, or taking medications - is essential to our everyday lives. New research sheds light on two distinct brain processes that underlie this type of memory, known as prospective memory.
The research is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
To investigate how prospective memory is processed in the brain, psychological scientist Mark McDaniel of Washington University in St. Louis and colleagues had participants lie in an fMRI scanner and asked them to press one of two buttons to indicate whether a word that popped up on a screen was a member of a designated category. In addition to this ongoing activity, participants were asked to try to remember to press a third button whenever a special target popped up. The task was designed to tap into participants' prospective memory, or their ability to remember to take certain actions in response to specific future events.
When McDaniel and colleagues analyzed the fMRI data, they observed that two distinct brain activation patterns emerged when participants made the correct button press for a special target.