Date of Award

Summer 7-12-2018

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



Prospective memory (PM) commission errors occur when an individual erroneously repeats an intention that is finished and therefore no longer relevant (e.g., accidentally taking a medication one no longer needs to take). Commission errors have been observed in younger and older adults with age exacerbating commission error risk in select conditions. Only one prior study has used the finished paradigm to investigate the use of explicit strategies to reduce commission error rates in older adults. Bugg, Scullin, and Rauvola (2016) found that forgetting practice, an experience-based strategy, minimized commission errors to floor levels but a preparation-based strategy was ineffective. The current study compared multiple strategies with a focus on a) examining whether a preparation-based strategy may be effective if additional guidance is provided regarding how to prepare, and b) identifying an effective strategy with translational value that could be used outside of the laboratory. Younger (n = 96) and older adults (n = 96) were instructed to perform a PM intention (e.g., press “Q” when they encountered the target words “corn” or “dancer” on a red or blue background) during an ongoing lexical decision task. After four target words were presented, participants were instructed that they either no longer needed to perform the intention (standard “baseline” condition) or they additionally engaged in one of three randomly assigned strategies: imagined forgetting practice, implementation intentions, or repeated instructions. In the imagined forgetting practice condition, participants imagined seeing each target on the colored background and resisting the urge to respond. In the implementation intentions condition, participants wrote down their intention to no longer press “Q” when they saw the target words on the colored background. In the repeated instructions condition, participants simply received the standard instructions twice. Next, all participants performed the lexical decision task again. We examined whether they made a commission error (pressed Q) when target words reappeared. For older adults, imagined forgetting practice was the only strategy that significantly reduced the number of participants who made a commission error; however, for younger adults, all three strategies were effective in significantly reducing commission error rates compared to baseline. Contradicting previous findings, the number of participants who made a commission error did not significantly differ by age. Additional analyses are reported to evaluate the effects of age and strategy on the average number of commission errors. We found that a preparation-based strategy can effectively reduce commission errors in both younger and older adults when explicit guidance is provided. Critically, these novel findings have real-world translational value for younger and older adults.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Dr. Julie Bugg

Committee Members

Dr. Mark McDaniel, Dr. Dave Balota