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Psychol Sci. 2009 Feb;20(2):238-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02277.x. Epub 2009 Jan 8.

What I was doing versus what I did: verb aspect influences memory and future actions.

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Department of Psychology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA.


This research examined whether describing past actions as ongoing using the imperfective aspect (rather than describing them as completed using the perfective aspect) promotes memory for action-relevant knowledge and reenactment of these actions in a future context. In Experiment 1, participants who used the imperfective aspect to describe their strategy on a prior interpersonal task were more likely to use this strategy on a later task than were participants who used the perfective aspect to describe their prior strategy. Experiment 2 demonstrated that describing behaviors on a task using the imperfective rather than the perfective aspect increased willingness to resume that task by improving memory for task contents. The last two experiments showed that the effects of the imperfective aspect on memory decayed over time and that the imperfective aspect facilitated performance of a future behavior only when the described past behavior was relevant to the future behavior. Thus, the effects of aspect are moderated by memory decay and are behavior-specific.

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