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Psychol Sci. 2016 Jul;27(7):973-86. doi: 10.1177/0956797616643071. Epub 2016 May 20.

Reminders Through Association.

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Center for Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University
Operations, Information and Decisions Department, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.


People often fail to follow through on good intentions. While limited self-control is frequently the culprit, another cause is simply forgetting to enact intentions when opportunities arise. We introduce a novel, potent approach to facilitating follow-through: the reminders-through-association approach. This approach involves associating intentions (e.g., to mail a letter on your desk tomorrow) with distinctive cues that will capture attention when you have opportunities to act on those intentions (e.g., Valentine's Day flowers that arrived late yesterday, which are sitting on your desk). We showed that cue-based reminders are more potent when the cues they employ are distinctive relative to (a) other regularly encountered stimuli and (b) other stimuli encountered concurrently. Further, they can be more effective than written or electronic reminder messages, and they are undervalued and underused. The reminders-through-association approach, developed by integrating and expanding on past research on self-control, reminders, and prospective memory, can be a powerful tool for policymakers and individuals.


decision making; memory; open data; open materials; policymaking; self-control

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