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Study: Prospective and Retrospective Memory Problems in Adults with Dyslexia

Short-term and working memory problems in dyslexia are well-documented, but other memory domains have received little empirical scrutiny, despite some evidence to suggest that they might be impaired.

Two such neglected memory systems are those of prospective memory (PM) and retrospective memory (RM), with evidence being particularly lacking for both memory systems in the case of adults with dyslexia. PM is memory for delayed intentions (e.g. Winograd, 1988) or remembering to remember (Mäntylä, 1994). Event-based PM (EBPM) tasks require the individual to remember to perform a particular intention in response to the occurrence of a particular event, for example, remembering to give a message to a colleague when he or she is next encountered. Time-based PM (TBPM) tasks demand that the individual remembers to perform a particular action at a particular time in the future, for example, remembering to return a call in an hour’s time. RM refers collectively to memory for personally experienced past events, semantic memory and memory for word lists (e.g. Smith et al., 2000).

To gain an understanding of subjective everyday memory experience, Smith-Spark, Zięcik and Sterling (2016) designed a self-report measure to tap prospective and retrospective memory, and administered it to 28 adults with dyslexia and 26 IQ-matched adults without dyslexia. Adults with dyslexia reported experiencing significantly more frequent problems with memory than the adults without dyslexia. Group differences were found across seven out of the eight questionnaire scales. Further to these analyses, the participants’ own ratings were compared with proxy ratings provided by close associates. The perception of poorer memory abilities in the participants did not differ between respondent types. The selfreported difficulties are, thus, unlikely to be the result of lowered self-esteem or metacognitive awareness. More frequent difficulties with both types of memory would seem, therefore, to be experienced by adults with dyslexia in everyday life.

The authors recommend further laboratory-based research to explore both memory domains in dyslexia and to identify the cognitive mechanisms by which these problems occur..


Mäntylä, T. (2003). Assessing absentmindedness: prospective memory complaint and impairment in middle-aged adults. Memory & Cognition, 31, 15–25.

Smith, G., Della Sala, S., Logie, R. H., & Maylor, E. A. (2000). Prospective and retrospective memory in normal ageing and dementia: a questionnaire study. Memory, 8, 311–321.

Smith-Spark, J. H., Zięcik, A. P., & Sterling, C. (2016). Self-reports of increased prospective and retrospective memory problems in adults with developmental dyslexia. Dyslexia, 22(3), 245-262.

Winograd, E. (1988). Some observations on prospective remembering. In M. M. Gruneberg, P. E. Morris, & R. N. Sykes (Eds.), Practical aspects of memory: Current research and issues (pp. 348–353), Vol. 1. Chichester, UK: Wiley.