Investigating prospective memory via eye tracking: No evidence for a monitoring deficit in older adults

N. Ballhausen*, M. M. Lauffs, M. H. Herzog, M. Kliegel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Prospective memory (PM) refers to remembering to perform intended actions in the future. Older adults in particular have been shown to be negatively affected by PM tasks that require a high amount of attentional resources (i.e., nonfocal tasks). This age-related PM deficit has been attributed to reduced target monitoring in this age group older adults. However, this conclusion was based on indirect measures of monitoring, such as costs of the ongoing task.

The present study set out to 1) investigate older adults' PM target monitoring by, for the first time, employing a direct measure (i.e., eye tracking), 2) assess differences in monitoring between PM tasks that differ in their focality, and 3) examine whether differences in PM monitoring can indeed explain older adults' reduced PM performance in nonfocal tasks.

Results demonstrate that while older, but not younger adults, showed reduced performance in a nonfocal PM task, overt monitoring (eye movements) of these groups did not differ between focality conditions. Further analyses showed that older adults' performance was still reduced on the strategically more demanding task after controlling for overt target monitoring (i.e., including only trials in which the participant monitored).

In contrast to indirect measures of cue monitoring, our findings illustrate that older adults' deficits on non-focal PM tasks cannot (exclusively) be explained by reduced monitoring. Instead, processing that takes place after target monitoring are discussed as possible mechanisms underlying older adults' reduced PM performance in nonfocal tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-116
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Prospective memory
  • Monitoring
  • Focality
  • Aging
  • Eye movements
  • TASK


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