The scenario is a common one.
As you leave work you make a mental note to pick up milk on your way home. The next thing you know, you are in your driveway having forgotten to stop.
Why we fail to remember to do things is the subject of a research project by Iulia Niculescu, a Master’s student in UWindsor’s clinical neuropsychology program. She is studying what’s called prospective memory — the ability to remember and carry out in the future an intention you formed in the past.
“Prospective memory is important because a big part of our lives is planning,” Niculescu said. “It underlies everything we do in daily life and it affects our productivity.”
Niculescu is working under the supervision of UWindsor neuropsychology professor Kristoffer Romero to study the effect mood has on prospective memory.
“I’m looking specifically at rumination: overthinking things and repetitively going over it in your mind, and how it can impact how we remember to do other things in the future,” she says.
She is hoping to recruit 200 participants — 100 of them 60 years or older and 100 younger adults. Comparing results from the two groups will add another dimension to the study.
Niculescu’s study will take place in real time. Four times over a single week, she will ask participants what they are thinking about in the present moment. She will also ask them to do a task in the future related to the study, and then she will check to see if the participants remembered to do it.
The entire research study is done online, so participants can complete the experiment wherever they are.
Called a longitudinal study because it involves repeated observations of the same variables over time, it’s a new approach to studying prospective memory, Niculescu said. Past studies have asked participants about their experience with prospective memory rather than testing it in real time as she is doing.
“We will be gauging mood and testing memory at the same time, in real time.”
The project is the basis of Niculescu’s Master’s thesis. Originally from Toronto, Niculescu did her undergrad at York University. She hopes to stay in Windsor for doctoral studies.
The research project is funded through a $17,500 scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Niculescu hopes to complete the project by June, then present her research findings at conferences and in academic journals.