Master of Science
Episodic future thinking is the ability to project the self forward in time to pre-experience an event (Atance & O’Neill, 2001). Understanding how people think about potential future events is an important component of human memory research. We investigated whether and how episodic future thinking is influenced by a person's belief of the likelihood of its future occurrence in their lives, as well as a person's familiarity with that type of event based on their past experience. The combined and individual effects of these variables have been minimally studied, particularly likelihood. We used three norming studies to develop participant-specific sets of future events that varied by likelihood and familiarity. Participants generated events and rated phenomenological aspects of their simulations. Likelihood and familiarity interacted in influencing people's simulation of future events, specifically on the simulated perceptual information. Both variables influenced episodic future event simulations on their own as well. The enhancement of future event simulations by the likelihood of an event occurring in a person's future suggests that it is an important part of the underlying mechanisms that support episodic future thinking.
Summary for Lay Audience
People think about their future every day, and for that, it is known that they use information that comes from similar past experiences. In fact, remembering our past and simulating our future is built on similar information. However, the past and the future are different; the past is certain, but the future is yet to be known. There are two important parts of thinking about the future. One is about putting together known information, and the other is about aligning that information to what we expect to happen. An unanswered question concerns whether we think differently about future events according to how likely they are. We found that when events are well known, the increased likelihood of their occurrence makes them more vivid in our minds. We also found that regardless of how familiar events are, their likelihood of occurrence helps us produce more detailed and clearer pictures of what we think may happen.
Morales Valiente, Claudia, "Likelihood and familiarity in the simulation of future events" (2021). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8031.