On the fallibility of human memory for future actions
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Human memory is a system that is inherently fallible and prone to distortion, and our memory for future actions is no exception. Prospective memory is defined either as remembering to carry out a task at a particular moment in the future or as the timely execution of a previously formed intention. For a variety of reasons, one may miss this prearranged moment and thus fail to fulfill an intention. This thesis focuses on the factors that may affect the fulfilment of a delayed intention and contribute to prospective memory failures. As the rather scant literature on the effect of stress on prospective memory functioning has produced contradictory findings, Part One of this Thesis investigates the role of stress in prospective memory failures in a strict sense, namely forgetting to carry out intended actions at the appointed time and place. One study involving healthy participants examines the disruptive effect of daily stress on prospective memory functioning and explores the moderating role of individual factors in modulating the harmful consequences associated with stress in everyday life. Another study carried out with healthcare workers investigates how work stress and burnout may contribute to forgetting clinical tasks, which may result in potential adverse events jeopardizing patient safety. Besides stress, misremembering future intentions may also arise from the lingering effect of misinformation on our memory, attitudes, and behaviors. Part Two of this Thesis, encompassing 6 experiments on healthy participants, shows how inaccurate and invalid information survive despite sophisticated correction attempts, influencing memory and reported future intentions. Overall, the results of the studies presented in this Thesis prove the fallibility of our memory for future actions. Various techniques to reduce the risks associated with memory failures are discussed.