Current theories of prospective memory and new directions for theory development

Lia Kvavilashvili, Jan Rummel

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review


Planning ahead has become an essential part of individuals’ work and private lives, and might involve scheduling business meetings, making appointments with a dentist or arranging to pick up a child from school after work. These mundane activities have one thing in common. They involve future plans that cannot be fulfilled at the time they are formed but only several minutes, hours, days or weeks later. Remembering to execute intended actions at the appropriate moment in the future is an important cognitive ability that has been studied under the terms of ‘memory for intentions’ or ‘prospective memory’. Several theories have been proposed that define which cognitive processes are recruited for remembering future intentions. In this Review, we discuss the extent to which major theories of prospective memory make distinguishable assumptions about underlying mechanisms of prospective memory and whether these theories are able to explain important empirical findings. We conclude that, overall, all current theories perform quite well in this regard, but they all seem to be tailored to a specific laboratory paradigm. Therefore, further formalization of theories, a broader coverage of real-life prospective memory and a better integration of other future-oriented cognitive phenomena will be important avenues for future theorizing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-54
JournalNature Review Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2022


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