Remembering the Future

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Phase 1: Extreme Relaxation

Although this passive mechanism functions relatively effortlessly, the more active version requires attention that must be withdrawn from other tasks, some of which may also be important.


As we would expect, it is therefore more difficult and more prone to failure than the passive mechanism. Because many of the tasks we need to do are so important, we must rely on the active mechanism.

Miquel Barceló

This is one of the reasons why people working in situations that are heavily dependent on prospective memory, such as air traffic controllers, work short shifts and take lots of breaks. Neuroscientists have now shown where in the brain these two pathways for implementing intentions are located.

When the active mechanism is in play, networks in the anterior prefrontal cortex are activated.

How to remember the future and play with 'reality'

This area is involved especially when our attention is directed to something new. The other pathway makes use of networks located in the parietal and ventral regions that, among other things, are involved in autobiographical memory and the discovery of relevant visual stimuli. Prospective memory is so important to navigating daily life that it is important to understand whether it decays with age—and if so, how.

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Fergus Craik, a pioneer in cognitive memory psychology at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto provided the impetus for this research. As early as the mid s he made the assumption prospective memory in particular becomes more unreliable in older persons, because it requires a great deal of attention. This assumption was later confirmed in many experiments in which the test subjects were asked to recall previously agreed-to tasks for example, to press a button as soon as a certain word was said. Yet, in some studies, younger and older persons performed about the same—there were even a few where older subjects did better.

More and more researchers began to get involved in the study of prospective memory to resolve this contradiction. And they brought an unusual phenomenon to light: the age-prospective-memory paradox.

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If we test subjects at home with everyday tasks for example, remembering to call someone twice a day , older people do better than younger ones—although the effect is precisely the opposite in the laboratory. This finding raises two important questions, which our team and colleagues throughout the world are examining: How is the odd discrepancy between laboratory and everyday life to be explained?

And does prospective memory become less reliable with age or does it not? Tasks performed under laboratory conditions and those performed in daily life differ in various ways. In the laboratory memory is usually tested using standardized tasks that require multitasking. Under these conditions test subjects are generally unable to come up with mnemonic devices or use such memory aids as kitchen timers or to-do lists.

This may well be why they perform less well in the laboratory than out in the world, where priorities must be established and forgetting can have real consequences. In addition, the time span over which test subjects must retain something in memory is considerably shorter than it is in everyday life. At the same time, the lives of younger and older people are not really comparable.

The former are often engaged in study, must manage a variety of tasks and navigate unexpected situations; the lives of the latter are usually more predictable and follow a less chaotic rhythm.

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This circumstance makes it easier to remember. In addition, younger people may be more used to laboratory tests or feel less stressed in this setting. In addition, we cannot rule out that an exaggerated self-image may play a role in the age paradox.

Phase 2: Conjure Up Good Memories

Although both age groups underestimate their prospective abilities in the lab, only the younger participants tended to overestimate their performance in their usual, familiar environment. So should your laptop. And your car should be safer, faster, more stylish, and get better gas mileage. The result is that the question is often trivially answered: Your product should be better. Which makes you wonder: Are you asking the right question?

To collaborate online, click on the remember the future image. Hand each of your customers a few pieces of paper. Now, ask them to go even further — an extra day, or week, or month.

Remember the Future 37 Imagine the next iteration is perfect. What is it like? What did you do?


Source: Luke Hohmann , found at Diana Larsen. You learn that it was the best, most productive iteration yet! How do your future selves describe it? What do you see and hear? Then let everyone describe their vision of a perfect iteration. Follow up with 'What changes did we implement that resulted in such a productive and satisfying future?

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