Prospecve Memory and Working Memory in Adults with
Ausm Spectrum Disorder
Catherine Grainger1, David Williams1, Sophie Lind1 & Chris Jarrold2
1Department of Psychology, Durham University, 2Department of Psychology, Bristol University
-basedbased” ” prospecve memory (PM) involves remembering to carry out
an intenon upon the occurrence of a specied event (e.g., remove a pan
from the stove when the mer goes o).
-basedbased” ” PM involves remembering to execute an intenon at a parcu-
lar me (e.g., to remove the pan from the stove in 10 minutes).
Ausm spectrum disorder (ASD) Ausm spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that is
characterised by a parcular prole of strengths and weaknesses in
memory and cognion, although very few studies have explored PM.
Williams et al., under review found impaired me-based, but unimpaired
event-based, PM in children with ASD. However, parcipants may have been
compensang for underlying decits in event-based PM
Most neurotypical adults spontaneously recall their intenon upon the occur-
rence of the event (Ward et al., 2005), but individuals with ASD may succeed
on event-based PM tasks by rehearsing their intenon throughout. Under
these condions performance would depend on Working MemoryWorking Memory (WM),
the ability to hold informaon in mind during potenally distracng acvity.
In this study, adults with ASD and typically developing (TD) comparison adults
completed novel tests of event-based and me-based PM, as well as tests of
verbal and visual WM. Parcipants also self-reported the extent to which
they connuously searched for targets during the event-based PM task.
1. Time-based, but not event-based PM will be impaired in individuals with
2. Verbal WM will be intact in individuals with ASD
3. Event-based PM performance will be signicantly correlated with verbal
WM (but not visual WM ) in individuals with ASD.
4. Individuals with ASD will self-report searching for targets in the event-
based PM more than typically developing individuals.
Event-based failures * Verbal WM: : ASD:ASD: r r = .58, = .58, pp= .02; = .02; TD: r = .30, p= .27
Event-based failures * Visual WM: ASD: r = .19, p= .50; TD: r = .26, p= .34
Search Queson: Parcipants were asked to rate on a scale of 1-10 the ex-
tent to which they acvely searched for the event-based target throughout
the task (10 = searched the whole me; 1 = spontaneous retrieval of inten-
on, having not thought about it during the task).
Visual Storage task: Squares were presented to parcipants in dierent
locaons, in sequences of three to eight squares. Parcipants were asked
to recall the locaon the squares, in the order they saw them.
Verbal Storage task: Numbers were presented to parcipants, in sequenc-
es of three to eight. Parcipants were asked to recall the numbers they
saw, in the order they saw them in.
Predicted decits in me-based PM were found in individuals with ASD.
No group dierences in event-based task performance were found.
Verbal WM was not impaired in individuals with ASD, whereas visual WM
In individuals with ASD event-based PM performance was signicantly as-
sociated with verbal WM (not visual WM), whereas verbal WM was not
signicantly associated with performance in controls.
More than half the parcipants with ASD reported acvely searching for
the event-based targets, compared to just over a quarter of the TD parci-
These results suggest that individuals with ASD use atypical compensatory
strategies to perform well on event-based tasks despite limited underlying
Future research uture research could examine whether:
a) Suppressing verbal WM would cause greater impairments in PM perfor-
mance in individuals with ASD, compared to matched controls.
b) Improving WM ability (e.g. Holmes et al.,2009 ) in individuals with ASD
could improve ability in other types of memory.
Individual smuli presented
for 1000ms each
List of smuli appears for 5000ms, during
which parcipants made a correct/incorrect
500ms xaon cross
List of 7 Words
Figure 1: Outline of the ongoing task used in the
The prospecve memory in-
strucon was to press a
buon aer two minutes of
the task .
The prospecve memory in-
strucon was to press a
buon every me they saw a
musical instrument in the list.
Prospective Memory Task
: p= .03
Figure 2: Number of incorrect me-based and event
-based PM trials, for individuals with ASD and TD
Working Memory Task
Figure 3: Visual and Verbal WM performance, for individuals with ASD and
Mean number of
Number of trials
Table 1: Parcipant Characteriscs
ASD (n = 15 ) TD (n = 15) t p Cohen’s d
Age 31 (9) 34 (15) -0.72 .47 -0.26
VIQ 111 (15) 109 (9) 0.39 .70 0.14
PIQ 114(14) 115 (12) -0.08 .93 -0.03
AQ 35 (9) 13 (6) 7.51 <.001 0.81
Table 2: Mean response to the
search queson, in individuals with
ASD and TD individuals.
ASD TD Stasc p
Holmes, J. Gathercole, S. & Dunning, D. (2009). Adapve training leads to sustained enhancement of poor working memory in children.
Developmental Science, 12, 9-15.
Ward, H., Shum, D., McKinlay, L., Baker-Tweney, S., & Wallace, G.(2005). Development of prospecve memory: tasks based on the prefron-
tal-lobe model. Child Neuropsychology, 11, 527-49.
Williams, D., Boucher, J. & Jarrold, C. (under review). Time-based and event-based prospecve memory in children with ausm spectrum