Advertisement

Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Thinking about the past and future in daily life: an experience sampling study of individual differences in mental time travel

Abstract

Remembering the past and imagining the future are hallmarks of mental time travel. We provide evidence that such experiences are influenced by individual differences in temporal and affective biases in cognitive style, particularly brooding rumination (a negative past-oriented bias) and optimism (a positive future-oriented bias). Participants completed a 7-day, cellphone-based experience-sampling study of temporal orientation and mental imagery. Multilevel models showed that individual differences in brooding rumination predicted less vivid and positive past- and future-oriented thoughts, even after controlling for depressed mood. People high in brooding rumination were also more likely to report thinking about a past experience when probed at random during the day. Conversely, optimists were more likely to report more vivid and positive future-oriented, but not past-oriented thoughts, although they did not report thinking more or less often about the past and future. The results suggest that temporal and affective biases in cognitive style influence how people think about the past and future in daily life.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    We also assessed the role of gender. Past research suggests that women ruminate more than men (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991), and our sample was approximately two-thirds female; however, gender did not decrease the effect of brooding on vividness.

References

  1. Addis, D. R., Pan, L., Musicaro, R., & Schacter, D. L. (2016). Divergent thinking and constructing episodic simulations. Memory, 24, 89–97.

  2. Addis, D. R., Pan, L., Vu, M., Laiser, N., & Schacter, D. L. (2009). Constructive episodic simulation of the future and the past: Distinct subsystems of a core brain network mediate imaging and remembering. Neuropsychologia, 47, 2222–2238.

  3. Addis, D. R., Wong, A. T., & Schacter, D. L. (2007). Remembering the past and imagining the future: Common and distinct neural substrates during event construction and elaboration. Neuropsychologia, 45, 1363–1377.

  4. Addis, D. R., Wong, A. T., & Schacter, D. L. (2008). Age-related changes in the episodic simulation of future events. Psychological Science, 19, 33–41.

  5. Baird, B., Smallwood, J., & Schooler, J. W. (2011). Back to the future: autobiographical planning and the functionality of mind-wandering. Consciousness and Cognition, 20, 1604–1611.

  6. Beaty, R. E., Benedek, M., Silvia, P. J., & Schacter, D. L. (2016). Creative cognition and brain network dynamics. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20, 87–95.

  7. Beaty, R. E., Burgin, C. J., Nusbaum, E. C., Kwapil, T. R., Hodges, D. A., & Silvia, P. J. (2013). Music to the inner ears: Exploring individual differences in musical imagery. Consciousness and Cognition, 22, 1163–1173.

  8. Beaty, R. E., & Schacter, D. L. (2018). Episodic memory and cognitive control. Contributions to creative idea production. In R. Jung & O. Vartanian (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of the neuroscience of creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  9. Beaty, R. E., & Silvia, P. J. (2012). Why do ideas get more creative across time? An executive interpretation of the serial order effect in divergent thinking tasks. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 6, 309–319.

  10. Beaty, R. E., & Silvia, P. J. (2013). Metaphorically speaking: Cognitive abilities and the production of figurative language. Memory and Cognition, 41, 255–267.

  11. Benoit, R. G., & Schacter, D. L. (2015). Specifying the core network supporting episodic simulation and episodic memory by activation likelihood estimation. Neuropsychologia, 75, 450–457.

  12. Berntsen, D., & Jacobsen, A. S. (2008). Involuntary (spontaneous) mental time travel into the past and future. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 1093–1104.

  13. Blackwell, S. E., Rius-Ottenheim, N., Schulte-van Maaren, Y. W. M., Carlier, I. V. E., Middelkoop, V. C., Zitman, F. G., et al. (2013). Optimism and mental imagery: A possible cognitive marker to promote well-being? Psychiatry Research, 206, 56–61.

  14. Brissette, I., Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (2002). The role of optimism in social network development, coping, and psychological adjustment during a life transition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 102–111.

  15. Brown, A. D., Addis, D. R., Romano, T. A., Marmar, C. R., Bryant, R. A., Hirst, W., & Schacter, D. L. (2014). Episodic and semantic components of autobiographical memories and imagined future events in post-traumatic stress disorder. Memory, 22, 595–604.

  16. Burgin, C. J., Silvia, P. J., Eddington, K. M., & Kwapil, T. R. (2013). Palm or cell? Comparing personal digital assistants and cell phones for experience sampling research. Social Science Computer Review, 31, 244–251.

  17. Christoff, K., Irving, Z. C., Fox, K. C., Spreng, R. N., & Andrews-Hanna, J. R. (2016). Mind-wandering as spontaneous thought: a dynamic framework. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 17, 718–731.

  18. Cole, S. N., Staugaard, S. R., & Berntsen, D. (2016). Inducing involuntary and voluntary mental time travel using a laboratory paradigm. Memory & Cognition, 44, 376–389.

  19. D’Argembeau, A., & Mathy, A. (2011). Tracking the construction of episodic future thoughts. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 140, 258–271.

  20. D’Argembeau, A., Ortoleva, C., Jumentier, S., & Van der Linden, M. (2010). Component processes underlying future thinking. Memory & Cognition, 38, 809–819.

  21. D’Argembeau, A., Rafford, S., & Van der Linden, M. (2008). Remembering the past and imagining the future in schizophrenia. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 117, 247–251.

  22. D’Argembeau, A., Renauld, O., & Van der Linden, M. (2011). Frequency, characteristics and functions of future-oriented thoughts in daily life. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25, 96–103.

  23. D’Argembeau, A., Stawarczyk, D., Majerus, S., Collette, F., Van der Linden, M., Feyers, D., et al. (2010). The neural basis of personal goal processing when envisioning future events. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22, 1701–1713.

  24. D’Argembeau, A., & van der Linden, M. (2004). Phenomenal characteristics associated with projecting oneself back into the past and forward into the future: Influence of valence and temporal distance. Consciousness and Cognition, 13, 844–858.

  25. D’Argembeau, A., & Van der Linden, M. (2006). Individual differences in the phenomenology of mental time travel: The effect of vivid visual imagery and emotion regulation strategies. Consciousness and Cognition, 15, 342–350.

  26. De Brigard, F., Szpunar, K. K., & Schacter, D. L. (2013). Coming to grips with the past: Effect of repeated simulation on the perceived plausibility of episodic counterfactual thoughts. Psychological Science, 24, 1329–1334.

  27. Dickson, J. M., & Bates, G. W. (2005). Influence of repression on autobiographical memories and expectations of the future. Australian Journal of Psychology, 57, 20–27.

  28. Enders, C. K., & Tofighi, D. (2007). Centering predictor variables in cross-sectional multilevel models: A new look at an old issue. Psychological Methods, 12, 121–138.

  29. Gilhooly, K. J., Fioratou, E., Anthony, S. H., & Wynn, V. (2007). Divergent thinking: Strategies and executive involvement in generating novel uses for familiar objects. British Journal of Psychology, 98, 611–625.

  30. Hassabis, D., Kumaran, D., & Maguire, E. A. (2007). Using imagination to understand the neural basis of episodic memory. Journal of Neuroscience, 27, 14365–14374.

  31. Hill, P. F., & Emery, L. J. (2013). Episodic future thought: Contributions from working memory. Consciousness & Cognition, 22, 677–683.

  32. Holmes, E. A., Lang, T. J., Moulds, M. L., & Steele, A. M. (2008). Prospective and positive mental imagery deficits in dysphoria. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 46(8), 976–981.

  33. Irish, M., & Piguet, O. (2013). The pivotal role of semantic memory in remembering the past and imagining the future. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 7, 27.

  34. Kane, M. J., Brown, L. H., McVay, J. C., Silvia, P. J., Myin-Germeys, I., & Kwapil, T. R. (2007). For whom the mind wanders, and when: An experience-sampling study of working memory and executive control in daily life. Psychological Science, 18, 614–621.

  35. Kline, R. B. (2011). Principles and practice of structural equation modeling (3rd edn.). New York: Guilford.

  36. Klinger, E., & Cox, W. M. (1987). Dimensions of thought flow in everyday life. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 7, 105–128.

  37. Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330, 932.

  38. Koster, E. H., De Lissnyder, E., Derakshan, N., & De Raedt, R. (2011). Understanding depressive rumination from a cognitive science perspective: The impaired disengagement hypothesis. Clinical psychology review, 31, 138–145.

  39. Kremers, I. P., Spinhoven, P., Van Der Does, A. J., & van Dyck, R. (2006). Social problem solving, autobiographical memory and the future specificity in outpatients with borderline personality disorder. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 13, 131–137.

  40. Kvavilashvili, L., & Schlagman, S. (2011). Involuntary autobiographical memories in dysphoric mood: A laboratory study. Memory, 19, 331–345.

  41. Lovibond, P. F., & Lovibond, S. H. (1995). The structure of negative emotional states: comparison of the depression anxiety stress scales (DASS) with the Beck depression and anxiety inventories. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 33, 335–343.

  42. MacLeod, A. K., Rose, G., & Williams, J. M. (1993). Components of hopelessness about the future in parasuicide. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 17, 441–455.

  43. McDermott, K. B., Wooldridge, C. L., Rice, H. J., Berg, J. J., & Szpunar, K. K. (2016). Visual perspective in remembering and episodic future thought. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 69, 243–253.

  44. McNally, R. J., Litz, B. T., Prassas, A., Shin, L. M., & Weathers, F. W. (1994). Emotional priming of autobiographical memory in post-traumatic stress disorder. Cognition & Emotion, 8, 351–367.

  45. Miloyan, B., Bulley, A., & Suddendorf, T. (2016). Episodic foresight and anxiety: Proximate and ultimate perspectives. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55, 4–22.

  46. Mullally, S. L., & Maguire, E. A. (2014). Memory, imagination, and predicting the future: A. common brain mechanism? The Neuroscientist, 20, 220–234.

  47. Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1991). Responses to depression and their effects on the duration of depressive episodes. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 100, 569–582.

  48. Poerio, G. L., Totterdell, P., & Miles, E. (2013). Mind-wandering and negative mood: Does one thing really lead to another? Consciousness and Cognition, 22, 1412–1421.

  49. Roberts, R. P., Wiebels, K., Sumner, R. L., van Mulukom, V., Grady, C. L., Schacter, D. L., & Addis, D. R. (2017). An fMRI investigation of the relationship between future imagination and cognitive flexibility. Neuropsychologia, 95, 156–172.

  50. Schacter, D. L. (2012). Adaptive constructive processes and the future of memory. American Psychologist, 67, 603–613.

  51. Schacter, D. L., & Addis, D. R. (2007). On the constructive simulation of past and future events. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 30, 331–332.

  52. Schacter, D. L., Addis, D. R., & Buckner, R. L. (2007). Remembering the past to imagine the future: The prospective brain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 8, 657–661.

  53. Schacter, D. L., Addis, D. R., Hassabis, D., Martin, V. C., Spreng, R. N., & Szpunar, K. K. (2012). The future of memory: remembering, imagining, and the brain. Neuron, 76, 677–694.

  54. Schacter, D. L., Benoit, R. G., De Brigard, F., & Szpunar, K. K. (2015). Episodic future thinking and episodic counterfactual thinking: intersections between memory and decisions. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 17, 114–121.

  55. Schacter, D. L., Benoit, R. G., & Szpunar, K. K. (2017). Episodic future thinking: mechanisms and functions. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 17, 41–50.

  56. Schacter, D. L., & Madore, K. P. (2016). Remembering the past and imagining the future: identifying and enhancing the contribution of episodic memory. Memory Studies, 9, 245–255.

  57. Scheier, M. F., Carver, C. S., & Bridges, M. W. (1994). Distinguishing optimism from neuroticism (and trait anxiety, self-mastery, and self-esteem): a re-evaluation of the Life Orientation Test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 1063–1078.

  58. Seli, P., Kane, M., Smallwood, J., Schacter, D. L., Maillet, D., Schooler, J., & Smilek, D. (2018). Mind-wandering as a natural kind: a family-resemblances view. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22, 479–490.

  59. Seli, P., Ralph, B. C., Konishi, M., Smilek, D., & Schacter, D. L. (2017). What did you have in mind? Examining the content of intentional and unintentional types of mind wandering. Consciousness and Cognition, 51, 149–156.

  60. Seli, P., Risko, E. F., & Smilek, D. (2016). On the necessity of distinguishing between unintentional and intentional mind wandering. Psychological Science, 27, 685–691.

  61. Seli, P., Risko, E. F., Smilek, D., & Schacter, D. L. (2016). Mind-wandering with and without intention. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20, 605–617.

  62. Sheldon, S., & El-Asmar, N. (2017). The cognitive tools that support mentally constructing event and scene representations. Memory, 26, 858–868.

  63. Silvia, P. J., Kwapil, T. R., Eddington, K. M., & Brown, L. H. (2013). Missed beeps and missing data: dispositional and situational predictors of non-response in experience sampling research. Social Science Computer Review, 31, 471–481.

  64. Song, X., & Wang, X. (2012). Mind wandering in Chinese daily lives—an experience sampling study. PloS One, 7, e44423.

  65. Spronken, M., Holland, R. W., Figner, B., & Dijksterhuis, A. (2016). Temporal focus, temporal distance, and mind-wandering valence: results from an experience sampling and an experimental study. Consciousness and Cognition, 41, 104–118.

  66. Stawarczyk, D., Cassol, H., & D’Argembeau, A. (2013). Phenomenology of future-oriented mind-wandering episodes. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 425.

  67. Stawarczyk, D., & D’Argembeau, A. (2015). Neural correlates of personal goal processing during episodic future thinking and mind-wandering: An ALE meta-analysis. Human Brain Mapping, 36, 2928–2947.

  68. Szpunar, K. K. (2010). Episodic future thought: an emerging concept. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5, 142–162.

  69. Szpunar, K. K., & McDermott, K. B. (2008). Episodic future thought and its relation to remembering: evidence from ratings of subjective experience. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 330–334.

  70. Szpunar, K. K., Watson, J. M., & McDermott, K. B. (2007). Neural substrates of envisioning the future. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104, 642–647.

  71. Telesage. (2009). SmartQ (version 5.2.48) [computer software]. Chapel Hill: Telesage.

  72. Treynor, W., Gonzalez, R., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2003). Rumination reconsidered: a psychometric analysis. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 27, 247–259.

  73. Tulving, E. (1985). Memory and consciousness. Canadian Psychology, 26, 1–12.

  74. Watkins, E., & Teasdale, J. D. (2001). Rumination and overgeneral memory in depression: effects of self-focus and analytic thinking. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 110, 353–357.

  75. Watkins, E. R. (2008). Constructive and unconstructive repetitive thought. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 163–206.

  76. Weinstein, N. D. (1980). Unrealistic optimism about future life events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 806–820.

  77. Williams, J. M. G., Barnhofer, T., Crane, C., Herman, D., Raes, F., Watkins, E., & Dalgleish, T. (2007). Autobiographical memory specificity and emotional disorder. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 122–148.

  78. Williams, J. M. G., Ellis, N. C., Tyers, C., & Healy, H. (1996). The specificity of autobiographical memory and imageability of the future. Memory & Cognition, 24, 116–125.

  79. Wu, J., Szpunar, K. K., Godovich, S., Schacter, D. L., & Hofmann, S. G. (2015). Episodic future thinking in generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 36, 1–8.

  80. Zabelina, D. L., & Robinson, M. D. (2010). Creativity as flexible cognitive control. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 4, 136–143.

  81. Zimbardo, P. G., & Boyd, J. N. (2015). Putting time in perspective: A valid, reliable individual-differences metric. In M. Stolarski, N. Fieulaine, & W. van Beek (Eds.), Time perspective theory: Review, research and application. Cham: Springer.

Download references

Funding

P.S. was supported by a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Banting Post-Doctoral Fellowship. D.L.S received research Grants from the National Institute of Mental Health R01 MH060941.

Author information

Correspondence to Roger E. Beaty.

Ethics declarations

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Beaty, R.E., Seli, P. & Schacter, D.L. Thinking about the past and future in daily life: an experience sampling study of individual differences in mental time travel. Psychological Research 83, 805–816 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-018-1075-7

Download citation