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The future-directed functions of the imagination: From prediction to metaforesight



One of the fundamental roles of human imagination is to enable the representation of possible future events. Here, we survey some of the most critical abilities that this foresight supports: anticipating future emotions, setting and pursuing goals, preparing for threats, deliberately acquiring skills and knowledge, and intentionally shaping the future environment. Furthermore, we outline how metacognition bolsters human capacities even further by enabling people to reflect on and compensate for the natural limits of their foresight. For example, humans make contingency plans because they appreciate that their initial predictions may turn out to be wrong. We suggest that the processes involved in monitoring, controlling, and ultimately augmenting future-oriented imagination represent an important and understudied parallel of "metamemory" that should be called "metaforesight".
The future-directed functions of the imagination:
From prediction to metaforesight
Adam Bulley12, Jonathan Redshaw2 and Thomas Suddendorf2
1 Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
2 Centre for Psychology and Evolution, School of Psychology, The University of
Queensland, Australia
Chapter for “The Cambridge Handbook of the Imagination”
One of the fundamental roles of human imagination is to enable the representation of
possible future events. Here, we survey some of the most critical abilities that this
foresight supports: anticipating future emotions, setting and pursuing goals,
preparing for threats, deliberately acquiring skills and knowledge, and intentionally
shaping the future environment. Furthermore, we outline how metacognition bolsters
human capacities even further by enabling people to reflect on and compensate for
the natural limits of their foresight. For example, humans make contingency plans
because they appreciate that their initial predictions may turn out to be wrong. We
suggest that the processes involved in monitoring, controlling, and ultimately
augmenting future-oriented imagination represent an important and understudied
parallel of “metamemory” that should be called “metaforesight”.
Keywords: episodic foresight, episodic future thinking, prospection, metamemory,
metaforesight, intertemporal choice, deliberate practice, goals, affective forecasting,
Number of words - Total: 7978 (Main text: 5523 + References: 2455)
“Man alone is able to manipulate time into past and future, transpose objects or
abstract ideas in a similar fashion, and make a kind of reality which is not present, or
which exists only as potential in the real world. From this gift comes his social
structure and traditions and even the tools with which he modifies his surroundings.
They exist in the dark confines of the cranium before the instructed hand creates the
Loren Eiseley (1970, p. 145)
Where does our imagination come from, and what is it for? Here we argue
that one of the primary roles of the imagination as an evolved system is to facilitate
the acquisition of future benefits and the avoidance of future harms. To support this
claim, we survey some of the most critical abilities enabled by the future-oriented
imagination: anticipating future emotions, setting and pursuing goals, preparing for
threats, making flexible decisions, acquiring masterful skills, and building powerful
The idea that the capacity to imagine the future has adaptive behavioural
consequences has a long history. The ancient Greeks believed that Prometheus
(literally translated asforesight’) stole fire from heaven and gave it to human beings
– the lowly animal left unequipped for the battleground of nature when capacities like
teeth, claws and thick hides were doled out (Suddendorf, 1994). The ability to
harness fire is indeed a prime example of the future-oriented power of imagination.
Controlled fires demand not only a stockpile of combustible materials, but also
knowledge of techniques to start, maintain, and contain the flames. Mastery in this
domain thus requires a suite of cognitive capacities that draw heavily on the
imagination, such as deliberate practice and planning. But the benefits are numerous
and profound: light, warmth, protection, and cooking to name a few. Human control
of fire therefore illustrates the more general principle that imagining the future can be
decidedly useful. Despite whatever costs it may entail, foresight has been a driving
force in the evolutionary success of our species (Suddendorf & Corballis, 1997).
1. Surveying the future-oriented functions of imagination
Among the first modern thinkers to identify the significant adaptive future-
oriented benefits of the imagination were Cyberneticists of the 1940s and 1950s. In
an oft-quoted passage, Craik (1943, pp. 59-61) noted:
“If the organism carries a ‘small-scale model’ of external reality and of its own
possible actions within its head, it is able to try out various alternatives,
conclude which is the best of them, react to future situations before they arise,
utilise the knowledge of past events in dealing with the present and the future,
and in every way to react in a much fuller, safe, and more competent manner
to the emergencies which face it.”
Many authors have built on this concept of future-oriented ‘mental models’,
and the resulting intellectual tradition is too rich for a full discussion here (see Bulley,
2018, for a review). In short, many prominent theories suggest we should consider
the imagination as a kind of simulation often predictiveof interactions with the
environment (Barsalou, 2009; Clark, 2015; Hesslow, 2012; Pezzulo, 2008; Schacter,
Addis, & Buckner, 2008)
. Seen through this lens, the experiences that people have
throughout their lives form the raw material for the predictions they make about the
future (Hassabis & Maguire, 2009; Irish & Piguet, 2013; Klein, 2013; Schacter et al.,
2012; Suddendorf & Corballis, 1997; Szpunar, 2010). This does not mean, however,
that people are inflexibly bound to anticipate only that which has come before. On
the contrary, human imagination enables people to foresee situations they have
never previously experienced by combining basic elements from memory into novel
constellations. The scenarios people build in their imaginations transform and branch
in real-time as different paths of future action are considered and compared in terms
of their likelihood and desirability.
Humans often deliberately imagine the future, for instance when hatching a
plan or pondering what goals to pursue. However, at times people seem just to
For a discussion of simulations about atemporal or fictitious events and the past, as
well as the relationship between mental time travel into the past and future, see
Schacter and Addis chapter and Michaelian, Perrin & Sant’Anna chapter (this
volume) as well as Suddendorf (2010).
daydream and inadvertently stumble upon future possibilities. Thus, some
researchers have suggested a distinction between voluntary and involuntary mental
time travel into the future (Finnbogadóttir & Berntsen, 2013), and others have
suggested that people tend to move back and forth between these modes when their
minds wander (e.g., Seli et al., 2018). The key point to recognize is that imagining
the future is a decidedly common human activity, even to the extent that people
cannot help but occupy themselves with it when they have nothing much else to
focus on (Corballis, 2013). In this section, we consider why this tendency is so
quintessentially human, by highlighting some of the powerful abilities that imagining
the future enables. We then explore how even more powerful benefits are unlocked
by our capacity to reflect on and critically appraise our simulations of the future
through what we call metaforesight.
1.1 Affective forecasting and goals. Imagining the future enables people to
evaluate alternate possible paths forward, and to therefore choose which to pursue.
A common way to evaluate outcomes is to anticipate how we would feel if they
happened, and this has been called affective forecasting (Gilbert & Wilson, 2007).
Simulating an interaction with the environment allows people to respond emotionally
‘as-if’ the event were really occurring (Damasio, 1994; Pezzulo, 2008). However, the
relationship between emotion and foresight is complex. Aside from anticipated
emotions (those predicted to occur in response to a future event), humans also have
anticipatory emotions felt in the present about an upcoming event, such as
excitement or dread (Berns et al., 2006; Loewenstein & Lerner, 2003). The very act
of anticipation can be strongly emotive as the German vernacular recognizes:
“Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude” (anticipated joy is the greatest joy).
Goals are desired possible future states, which implies an emotional
assessment of potential scenarios. However, a goal is more than an “affective
forecast” or a basic evaluation of a possible situation it is a motivator (Pezzulo &
Rigoli, 2011). Once emotions have been forecasted, they can rally cognitive and
behavioural resources towards or away from different possible future scenarios.
Indeed, mental simulations of the future tend to cluster around personal objectives
(D’Argembeau, 2016). People can even anticipate drive states and physiological
needs they do not currently possess an ability perhaps out of reach for other
animals (Bischof-Köhler, 1985; Köhler, 1925; Suddendorf & Corballis, 2007).
Humans alone build fires before they are cold and stuck in the dark.
1.2 Preparation for threats. This same ability to anticipate future emotions and
organise current behaviour accordingly underlies flexible and advanced preparation
for future dangers (Miloyan, Bulley, & Suddendorf, 2016, 2018). Of course, many
different species exhibit a capacity for defence in the face of immediate danger.
Indeed, some animals even have sophisticated responses to indicators of their own
vulnerability (Bateson, Brilot, & Nettle, 2011). For example, starlings spend more
time glancing around when they are foraging further apart from their flock neighbors
and thus are more succeptible to attacks (Devereux, Whittingham, Fernández-
Juricic, Vickery, & Krebs, 2006). But humans can prop open the window of time for
defense still farther. With the imagination, anxiety can be evoked regardless of what
is currently perceived. Humans were therefore motivated to craft spears that would
only later pierce the heart of their predators (Bulley, Henry, & Suddendorf, 2017).
In addition to extending the preparatory window, it is the flexibility afforded by
foresight that makes human defence so uniquely powerful. Consider the burrows that
many animals create, into which they can scurry when they sense a nearby predator.
Although burrows can be very complex, they are nevertheless built according to fixed
rules and offer only a limited set of hiding places. Humans, however, can anticipate
the failures of their hiding places and therefore place a trap at the entrance, cause a
distraction, or create a hidden escape route, and rapidly adjust these strategies
when they learn about new threats and possibilities. Consider, for instance, the
ingenious ways in which human cities have subsisted during prolonged periods of
siege warfare, by employing walls, tunnels, moats, traps and all sorts of
sophisticated battle plans, distractions and deceit.
1.3 Flexible decision-making. It should be clear that imagining the future allows
humans to fine-tune their behaviour to optimise long-term outcomes. Often, however,
present-moment behaviour is pitted in opposition to future outcomes for example
when capitalising on some opportunity now cuts off paths to a possibly greater but
delayed reward. Humans, like other animals, face a variety of ‘intertemporal’ trade-
offs as a result (Loewenstein, Read, & Baumeister, 2003; Stevens & Stephens,
2008). To eat the fruit now, or wait for the added taste and nutrition afforded by it
The capacity to subordinate immediate pleasure to more long-term aims has
long been emphasized as a strategy for personal success and as a powerful tool in
the arsenal of human cognition (Ainslie, 1975; Baumeister & Tierney, 2011).
Mischel’s seminal marshmallow tests with young children are prominent examples of
early psychological work on the topic (Mischel, Shoda, & Rodriguez, 1989).
However, the question of how humans deal with such trade-offs has been studied
since antiquity; for instance as Plato’s concept of akrasia (e.g., Rorty, 1980). Akratic
behaviours are those in opposition to one’s own better judgement, with the word
akrasia translating to “without strength” or “lacking command”. Akrasia is also core to
many world religious traditions: one must wait patiently and act prudently in the now
for the promise of reward in the afterlife. Thus, there is often a struggle between
immediate gratifications and higher ideals or goals (which is in many cases to simply
say imagined future payoffs).
Human adults’ intertemporal trade-offs are studied in many ways, but perhaps
most commonly with so-called intertemporal choice tasks. In such tasks, participants
make choices between immediate and delayed rewards, such as between $25 today
and $60 in 14 days (Kirby, Petry, & Bickel, 1999). The extent to which someone
discounts future rewards can be calculated based on their answers to multiple
intertemporal questions with different values and delays. Recent evidence suggests
that imagining future events when making intertemporal choices can shift
preferences towards future outcomes, reducing delay discounting. For example, in a
study by Peters and Büchel (2010), participants chose between monetary rewards
such as 20 now, or 35 in 45 days while sometimes being cued to imagine an
actual event they had planned around the same time as the delayed option. When
they were cued in this way, participants more often said they would be willing to wait
for the extra euros, and the more vividly they reported imagining the event, the
stronger the shift in their preferences (for reviews see Bulley, Henry, & Suddendorf,
2016; Schacter, Benoit, & Szpunar, 2017). This work dovetails with numerous
theoretical perspectives on the role of the imagination in intertemporal preferences.
Boyer (2008), for instance, suggested that one evolutionary function of imagining the
future is to act as a motivational brake on shorter-term impulses such as the
temptation to take advantage of another person for selfish gains.
It is important to note, however, that prudent reflection may not always
encourage choices for delayed over immediate rewards. Sometimes it is most
beneficial to pursue instantly available rewards. As the saying goes: a bird in the
hand is worth two in the bush. In nature, and in human cultural systems, delaying
gratification fundamentally relies on trust that the anticipated or promised outcome
will manifest. There are thus many circumstances where it is smart to take the
immediate but smaller reward, such as when the future outcome is particularly
uncertain or remote (Fawcett, McNamara, & Houston, 2012; Stevens & Stephens,
2008). When put to the extreme, too much patience can result in decision makers
dying “of starvation waiting for the windfall” (Santos & Rosati, 2015, p. 337). The
challenge is to know when to pursue immediate gratification and when to work
towards longer-term pay-offs.
Many critical human systems (including, but not limited to banks)
fundamentally rely on the capability to establish long-term trust in the name of
collaboration. The same is true even of rudimentary trading relationships in which
goods and services are exchanged after a delay. A growing body of evidence
suggests that foresight can encourage prosocial behaviour, implicating future-
oriented imagination in establishing and solidifying interpersonal trust (e.g., Gaesser
& Schacter, 2014; Sjåstad, 2019). Conversely, violations of trust undermine the
reasons for delaying gratification (Mischel, 2014). Even young children are less
willing to wait for a delayed reward if the experimenter has broken a promise (Kidd,
Palmeri, & Aslin, 2013).
1.4 Deliberate practice. To build a sustained fire, craft and use a sturdy weapon,
or play an instrument, one must attain mastery of a skill. Practicing is the way to
achieve such mastery. It requires thinking about one’s future self as alterable. Once
an upgraded future self can be envisioned, say with improved abilities and
knowledge, people can become motivated to pursue steps towards making this a
reality (Davis, Cullen, & Suddendorf, 2015; Suddendorf, Brinums, & Imuta, 2016).
Through many hours of practice humans pursue a seemingly endless variety of
skills. And while deliberate practice usually involves repetitions of physical actions, it
is also the case that humans can improve their skills by merely imagining the
relevant actions (e.g., Coffman, 1990).
Some of the earliest material evidence for deliberate practice in our lineage
comes in the form of Acheulean handaxes and cleavers associated with Homo
erectus (Suddendorf et al., 2016). The oldest surviving examples of the symmetrical
handaxes which potentially had many different uses including cutting meat from
carcasses, digging for tubers, and woodworking are over 1.76 million years old
(Lepre et al. 2011). There are some archaeological sites where a bounty of bifacial
handaxes lies discarded, for example at Olorgesailie in Kenya. This abundance of
intricately crafted tools suggests that their makers were practicing the manufacturing
skill. After all, if merely a handaxe was needed, they could have just picked up one of
the ones lying around. Instead, new ones were made again and again, and their
makers would have carried with them not just a tool, but the capacity to craft a new
one whenever needed (Suddendorf et al., 2016). The tools themselves exhibit signs
of effortful and detailed production, such as an aesthetic bi-directional symmetry that
would have required mastery of the relevant knapping skills (Mithen, 1996; Shipton &
Nielsen, 2015). The tools are complex and uniform enough that they must also have
emerged through iterative social learning, and perhaps teaching (Legare & Nielsen,
2015; Whiten & Erdal, 2012).
Another hypothesis about the overabundance of Acheulean handaxes is that
they represent a form of sexual signalling of desirable qualities such as the
competence of the creator (Kohn & Mithen, 1999). However, this possibility is clearly
complementary with the deliberate practice account. Even as a sexual signal, the
creation of a bifacial handaxe requires deliberate practice of flint knapping. Consider
the West Tofts handaxe, which has a shell embedded at its centre. The creator of
this object appears to have selected the flint and knapped it so that the shell stayed
in the middle demonstrating not only competence but perhaps also a sense of
beauty (Oakley, 1981).
Figure 1. The West Tofts Handaxe. A shell of the Cretaceous bivalve mollusc
Spondylus spinosus is embedded at the centre of the tool. This image is copyrighted.
Reproduced by permission of University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology &
Anthropology (accession number!1916.82).
2. Compensating for anticipated limits: introducing “metaforesight”
Humans, perhaps uniquely, are capable of meta-representational insight into
the relationship between their imagination and reality. In other words, people can
It is also possible that the shell placement is a complete coincidence. The interpretation of handaxes
in general, and especially with regards to what they tell us about ancient cognition, is contentious
within archaeology (for example see Machin, 2008).
evaluate how imagined scenarios link in with the external world, and thus assess
whether what is imagined is likely to actually occur in the future, and whether it is
biased, pessimistic, or hopeful and so forth. In the broad sense, meta-representation
involves representing the relation between (i) a representation and (ii) what that
representation is about (Pylyshyn, 1978). The development of such a capacity in
childhood is widely considered as critical to the emergence of an understanding of
other people’s minds (e.g., Perner, 1991). In the domain of foresight, this form of
metacognition has long been given a central role (Suddendorf, 1999). Once one
appreciates that one’s thoughts about the future are just representations, one is in a
position to evaluate them, to modify them, to discount them, to discuss them, and to
try to compensate for their shortcomings (Redshaw, 2014; Redshaw & Bulley, 2018).
Indeed, this capacity may be crucial to children acquiring a mature sense of future
time itself as a series of possible chains of events of which only one will actually
happen (see Hoerl & McCormack, 2018).
In this section, we will discuss a number of ways that metarepresentational
foresight unlocks a new suite of adaptive benefits for future-oriented imagination in
each of the domains surveyed above. Our primary argument is that metacognition
enables people to evaluate the strengths and limitations of their own predictions and
the future operation of other cognitive systems. These insights can then drive
compensatory action in preparation for possible cognitive failures, such as
contingency planning and the use of external reminders (Redshaw & Bulley, 2018;
Risko & Gilbert, 2016). We propose that together these processes be called
metaforesight. Given the established links between memory and foresight, this name
offers a fitting parallel to metamemory. Metamemory processes are those that
enable people to monitor and control their memory capacities, and this has long
been a subject of intense research (Bjork, 1994; Dunlosky & Tauber, 2016; Flavell &
Wellman, 1975; Nelson & Narens, 1990).
We have recently begun to examine how aspects of metaforesight develop in
childhood, and whether certain fundamentals are shared with other animals. In one
study, children and great apes were given the opportunity to catch a desirable target
dropped into an inverted “Y” shaped tube. Two-year-old children and apes typically
covered only a single exit from the tube, and thus missed the reward on
approximately half of the trials. By age four, however, most children consistently
covered both exits from the first trial onwards, ensuring they would always catch the
reward (Redshaw & Suddendorf, 2016). One interpretation is that the older children
understood that their prediction of the future target location could be wrong, and that
therefore it was worth covering both bases (Redshaw, Suddendorf, et al., 2018;
Suddendorf, Crimston, & Redshaw, 2017).
In another recent study, we tested young children’s metacognitive
compensation for their anticipated memory failures (Redshaw, Vandersee, Bulley, &
Gilbert, 2018). Children aged 7 to 13 were given a computerized task which required
them to remember to carry out future intentions after a delay analogous to a
prospective memory situation such as needing to remember to bring home a book
from school (Brandimonte, Einstein, & McDaniel, 2014). We then gave participants
the opportunity to set themselves reminders of the future intentions if they wished to
do so. Children of all ages demonstrated appropriate knowledge about their potential
memory failures – recognizing that it would be harder to perform the task when there
were more intentions to remember. However, we found that only children from about
9 years onwards set themselves more reminders in conditions in which they
anticipated their future memory performance would be worse.
Children’s age-related improvements on these specific tasks may be driven by
more general developments in both metacognitive insight and metacognitive control.
Metacognitive insight refers to beliefs about the capacities and limitations of our own
minds (Nelson & Narens, 1990), and typically develops during the preschool years.
Even 3.5-year-olds, for instance, seem to understand when they are uncertain about
the location of a hidden object (Neldner, Collier-Baker, & Nielsen, 2015) or if they
have previously learned an item from a memory list (Balcomb & Gerken, 2008).
Metacognitive control, on the other hand, refers to the use of metacognitive insight to
flexibly adopt behavioural strategies in varied situations, and typically develops
during the primary school years. For example, although 6- and 7-year-olds know the
difference between easy and hard items to learn for a memory test, only around age
9 do children dedicate proportionately more time to studying hard items than easy
items (Dufresne & Kobasigawa, 1989). Such fundamentals of metaforesight may
underlie a range of powerful abilities that we will now explore in more detail.
Figure 2. Recent studies into the fundamentals of metaforesight in development. (i)
Catching the ball dropped into the tube is guaranteed only by covering both exits
simultaneously a rudiment of contingency planning. Reprinted from Current
Biology, 26 (13), Redshaw, J., & Suddendorf, T., Children and Apes’ Preparatory
Responses to Two Mutually Exclusive Possibilities, 1758-1762, Copyright (2016)
with permission from Elsevier (ii) In a reminder-setting task, participants drag
numbered circles in ascending order to the bottom of the box. They must also
remember to carry out either one or three alternative actions for specific numbers
(dragging them to a particular edge) (A-B). In some conditions, participants have the
option of dragging the target circles to the relevant edge of the box at the beginning
of the trial a reminder setting strategy (C). If participants do pursue this option,
then—after dragging non-target circles to the bottom of the box (D-E)—the new
location of the target circles will remind them of the required action (F). Reprinted
from Child Development, 89 (6), Redshaw et al. Development of Children’s Use of
External Reminders for Hard-to-Remember Intentions, 2099-2108, Copyright (2018)
with permission from John Wiley and Sons. Child Development © 2018 Society for
Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved. 009-3920/2018/8906-0015.
2.1 The power of metaforesight
Appreciating that the future may not pan out according to their best-laid plans,
people frequently establish diverse contingencies and if-then’ conditionals – much to
their benefit (and to the profit of insurance salespeople). Counterfactual thinking
about how things might have been is a boon to this kind of flexible planning because
it lets people simulate how their mistakes might have cost them and how to avoid
repeating errors (Beck, Robinson, Carroll, & Apperly, 2006; Byrne, 2016; Rafetseder,
Cristi-Vargas, & Perner, 2010; Schacter, Benoit, De Brigard, & Szpunar, 2015).
People also frequently set up choices that are changeable – for instance by keeping
receipts so that clothing can be returned if one no longer likes how it looks. In setting
out on a clear morning, with fine weather predicted all day, people might nonetheless
decide to bring a coat because they realise that their initial sunny outlook (or that of
the weather forecaster) could be mistaken.
In the domain of deliberate practice, humans frequently face the problem of
deciding what skills to try and master given that there is only so much time in a day.
Should I try and master the piano, or pick an easier but perhaps less impressive
instrument? Notably, this can also take the form of ‘second-order volitions’
attempting to determine what we should want, and, indeed, wanting to want other
things (Frankfurt, 1988). Together, these processes enable people to become
knowledgeable and proficient in vastly disparate areas of mastery. The fact that
individuals make such different choices goes some way to explaining why humans
are so diverse in their expertise. Indeed, when wired together in reciprocal networks,
this range of expertise has accelerated human innovation and potent cooperation,
and has played a critical role in our dominance on the planet (Legare & Nielsen,
2015; Suddendorf, 2013).
Most research on the role of metacognition in future-oriented mental time
travel comes from the domain of flexible decision-making and willpower. This reflects
the practical importance of this question for understanding a vast swathe of
unhealthy behaviour in so-called ‘impulse-related disorders’ including drug use and
overeating (Koffarnus, Jarmolowicz, Mueller, & Bickel, 2013): why, exactly, do
people often fail to control their behaviours even when they are fully aware of the
prospective costs? However, even everyday drug use such as drinking coffee
involves, often implicitly, some strategic compensation for one’s own future cognitive
limitations. One might hope for a perfectly chipper morning meeting, but also realise
that without same caffeine this is likely to be little more than wishful thinking. The
vast majority of human drug use is not clinically problematic and does not reach the
threshold for diagnosis, leading some authors to argue that most drugs are instead
used strategically as tools to modify and enhance cognition in various domains
(Müller & Schumann, 2011).
On the other hand, people often employ metaforesight to align their
anticipated future behaviours with their ‘better judgement’ as in the akrasia
examples discussed earlier. Odysseus, in the archetypal display, has himself lashed
to the mast of his ship to prevent an anticipated failure of willpower when he hears
the sirens calling (Ainslie, 1975; Boyer, 2008; Elster, 2000). Here, Odysseus realised
that an imagined future in which he successfully avoided the sirens was just one way
things could turn out, and a dangerous alternative was likely unless he took steps in
the present to guard against his future temptations. To do it, he offloaded his
cognition – relying on other people in the environment as mechanisms for situational
self-control (Duckworth, Gendler, & Gross, 2016). The dieter who, in a cool moment
of insight, tells his spouse to hide the cookies is applying the same strategy.
Humans implement such strategies in a form of negotiation with their own
future self (Parfit, 1971; Rachlin, 2016; Schelling, 1960; Thaler & Shefrin, 1981).
There are apps one can download, for example, that once activated simply block
access to various social media, news, and entertainment websites. It is common
practice in trying to quit biting one’s nails to apply a clear nasty-tasting liquid so that
future failures are punished and corrected by one’s own past compensatory
behaviour. A clinical treatment, ‘antabuse’ (disulfiram) produces the effects of a
hangover immediately after consuming alcohol, and not after the typical delay
(Rachlin, 1995; Shelling, 1983). In all of the above cases the common thread is that
a future is imagined wherein the person recognizes that their future self will have
particular limits with precursory compensating action a downstream effect of this
Finally, we note that metaforesight may play a particularly crucial role in
solving one of the most archetypal future-oriented problems that humans face: how
to anticipate and act to satisfy future desires that we currently do not experience
(Suddendorf & Corballis, 1997). Indeed, anticipation of future desire states need not
necessarily be based on pre-experiencing these desire states. Rather, we may often
project our current drive states and physiological needs into our future selves and
then meta-cognitively recognise that these imagined states are misleading and alter
our behaviour accordingly (Redshaw & Bulley, 2018). Thus a fully-sated shopper
does not necessarily need to imagine being hungry in order to buy next week’s
groceries; she merely needs to know that she (and the rest of her family) will not be
sated in the future.
3. Tools that metaforesight helps to build
As discussed earlier, bifacial hand axes from the Acheulean represent
perhaps the earliest hard evidence for complex prospective cognition in any Homo
species (Hallos, 2005). However, metaforesight allows humans to create still more
complex tools or cognitive artefacts that extend and buttress the mind (Clark,
2008, 2015; Clark & Chalmers, 1998; Donald, 1991; Dror & Harnad, 2008;
Heersmink, 2013; Hutchins, 1999; Jones, 2007; Sterelny, 2010; Sutton, 2006). There
is some Palaeolithic evidence for representations of landscape features for use in
navigation or planning that might fairly be called ‘maps’ (Clarke, 2013; Smith, 1987),
including a recently discovered set of engraved stone blocks from Abauntz Cave in
Navarra, Spain dating back approximately 13,000 years (Utrilla, Mazo, Sopena,
Martínez-Bea, & Domingo, 2009). The tablets may have been portable, weighing
less than the average modern laptop (Clarke, 2013), and thus built in advance to
compensate and extend for known limitations in unaided navigation. Interpretations
of these engravings and other similar artefacts, such as an 8200-year-old Neolithic
“settlement plan map” in Çatalhöyük, Anatolia (Mellaart, 1967), are contentious
(Meece, 2006; Woodward & Harley, 1987). We must also consider that maps are
most useful if they can be created and used ‘on-the-go’, and are thus likely to have
been produced for thousands of years with transient materials prior to the earliest
remaining evidence (Dawkins, 1998). Lines drawn in the sand, however, are
famously ephemeral.
Indications of metaforesight in tool use are non-contentious by the time of
Babylonian Mesopotamia around 5000 years ago, where evidence for expert
cartography abounds, as does cuneiform script (Clarke, 2013; Fischer, 2001;
Woodward & Harley, 1987). Maps and writing are of course both excellent evidence
that future-directed metacognitive insight and control had emerged because they
enable the user to outsource various cognitive processes including memory,
mathematics, and even trust. Consider that early recordings of trade and debt took
the form of a single marked wooden block called a tally that could be split into two
halves the ‘foil’ and the ‘stock’ (Baxter, 1989). Putting both halves back together
again in the future to read the inscription would expose any tampering, negating the
need for perfect mental accounting of what was sold or owed.
Numerous artefacts abound from diverse cultures that served similar roles, for
example the intricate knotted string Quipus used by the Incans and other Andean
cultures to store complex records including census and tax information (for multiple
other examples see Kelly, 2017). By the rise of ancient Greece, complex water
clocks had been developed to keep track of time during political speeches (Dohrn-
van Rossum, 1996). All subsequent alarm clocks and external reminders employ the
same underlying logic – recognition of, and compensation for, an expected failure of
prospective memory.
Once these kinds of complex tools are invented, it becomes fruitful to assess
their ability to perform cognitive work in a similar way to how one might evaluate
one’s own abilities (Risko & Gilbert, 2016). Thus, although one might use Google to
help plan the location of a first date, it is inadvisable to use Google during the date to
help plan the next topic of conversation. Science, as a ‘thinking tool’ takes this to its
extreme: a hypothesis is generated alongside an explicit assessment of its possible
incorrectness, and, furthermore, a test that could falsify it (Popper, 1934). Indeed, it
is now customary to report metacognitive assessments such as confidence intervals,
statistical power and the standard errors of estimates in empirical articles. Scientific
instruments are often themselves extensions of sensory apparatuses (like
telescopes) as well as tools for the enhancement of cognitive labour (like computers)
but their capacities and uses must be assessed accurately for offloading to be
productive (Heersmink, 2016).
People may likewise selectively offload cognitive tasks into other people’s
minds, for instance when trusting an elder with the details of a creation myth, an
experienced tracker to navigate through treacherous terrain, or a spouse with
remembering a family appointment (Kelly, 2015; see also Michaelian & Sutton, 2013;
Nestojko, Finley, & Roediger, 2013; Palermos, 2016)
. There is, however, limited
research on how and when people perform prospective cognitive offloading into the
minds of other people (‘distributed cognition’), or its development in children (though
see for example Barnier, Sutton, Harris, & Wilson, 2008; Hirst & Echterhoff, 2012). In
further studying social cognitive offloading, it may prove fruitful to borrow from the
growing body of work on the role of metacognition in social learning strategies – that
is, how people come to ‘know who knows’ desired information and use that
information to learn selectively from others (Heyes, 2016).
4. Future directions and concluding remarks
The human imagination facilitates a large array of future-oriented faculties.
These include anticipating future emotions, complex planning, preparation for
threats, flexible decision-making, and deliberate practice, all of which are immensely
powerful in their own right. However, we have also identified how a capacity for
metacognition bolsters these capacities even further. We have proposed
metaforesight” the processes involved in monitoring, controlling, and ultimately
augmenting foresight as an important and understudied parallel of metamemory.
The study of this set of processes is in its infancy. There are numerous open
questions, such as how metaforesight develops in childhood, what aspects of it are
shared with other animals, when and where it emerges in the archeological record,
its underlying cognitive and neural mechanisms, and its deterioration in aging and
disease. When is it optimal to ‘offload’ cognition on the basis of our anticipated limits,
and does frequent offloading have any negative consequences? Do non-human
animals ever place objects strategically to remind themselves of things in the future?
Can metaforesight degrade in clinical disorders while foresight remains intact? With
the capacity to recognise and reflect on the natural limits of foresight comes the
creation of mental, cultural and technological means to compensate for these limits.
The human imagination is a tool and like any tool it is wielded more effectively
when you know where its limits lie.
Andy Clark has gone one step further still, and argues that language itself evolved because it
enables people to offload their thoughts into the external environment as perceptible ‘objects’ that
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... Intelligence analysts in government intelligence agencies, where managing risk is critical and anticipatory thinking a necessary part of producing intelligence reports, use structured analytic techniques (SATs) to critically appraise managed risks and assess anticipatory thinking. The result is a type of metaforesight (Bulley, Redshaw, and Suddendorf 2020) that identifies and mitigates cognitive biases about the future. An analogous approach to SATs is missing in AI evaluations ( Figure 1). ...
... The common element between these definitions of AT is the use of future-oriented imagination. Human imagination is hypothesized to have evolved for realizing future benefits and avoiding harms (Bulley, Redshaw, and Suddendorf 2020). Specific functions of imagination include affective forecasting, preparing for threats, flexible decision making, and deliberate practice (Bulley, Redshaw, and Suddendorf 2020). ...
... Human imagination is hypothesized to have evolved for realizing future benefits and avoiding harms (Bulley, Redshaw, and Suddendorf 2020). Specific functions of imagination include affective forecasting, preparing for threats, flexible decision making, and deliberate practice (Bulley, Redshaw, and Suddendorf 2020). Processes to employ our futuredirected imagination-prospection-include planning, simulation, intention, and prediction across semantic and syntactic representations (Szpunar, Spreng, and Schacter 2014). ...
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Anticipatory thinking is necessary for managing risk in the safety‐ and mission‐critical domains where AI systems are being deployed. We analyze the intersection of anticipatory thinking, the optimization paradigm, and metaforesight to advance our understanding of AI systems and their adaptive capabilities when encountering low‐likelihood/high‐impact risks. We describe this intersection as the anticipatory paradigm. We detail these challenges in concrete examples and propose new types of anticipatory thinking, towards a paradigm shift in how AI systems are evaluated.
... 3 Different theoretical models supported by empirical evidence have revealed that humans constantly engage in prospection and other forms of future-oriented cognition (Boyer, 2008;Gilbert & Wilson, 2007;Kappes & Morewedge, 2016;Seligman, 2016;Seligman et al., 2013;Szpunar et al., 2014). Prospection, simulation of the future, and anticipation are all closely related to the broader concept of mental time travelone of the most intriguing psychological capacities of the human mind: the capacity that allows humans to mentally project themselves forwards to pre-live events and that might be considered the ultimate evolutionary advantage (Bulley et al., 2020;Bulley, Adam, 2018;Dudai & Carruthers, 2005;Manuck et al., 2003;Rick & Loewenstein, 2008;Suddendorf, 2013;Suddendorf & Busby, 2003;Suddendorf & Corballis, 2007). In our theoretical synthesis, we consider different functions of producing future-oriented mental images in risky/uncertain decision making. ...
... One of the reasons we postulate that mental imagery plays an important role in decision making is that we see its involvement in the decision-making process as highly adaptive. As we have already suggested, the capacity that allows humans to mentally project themselves forwards might be considered one of the crucial evolutionary advantages (Bulley et al., 2020;Dudai & Carruthers, 2005;Manuck et al., 2003;Rick & Loewenstein, 2008;Suddendorf & Busby, 2003;Suddendorf & Corballis, 1997, 2007. However, it might also be argued that engaging in the generation of mental images is not necessary to forecastwhen making choices, people can consider potential future consequences of their actions, for example, in the form of comparing expected benefits and losses, valuing their subjective worth, or assessing probabilities with which they may occur. ...
This paper introduces a conceptual synthesis of theoretical ideas investigating the relationship between decision making and mental imagery. We claim that the generation of mental images may play a pivotal role in decision making because imaginative foresight allows an event to be pre-experienced and consequences of different choice alternatives to be “tried out.” Moreover, we provide evidence that mental imagery can be considered a source of emotions that regulate decision making and risk perception. We also propose principles describing the mutual relationships between mental imagery and decision making that allow for formulating testable hypotheses. Finally, we discuss open issues that arise in the context of the idea that mental imagery informs decision making. They concern the relationship between mental imagery and emotions, functional and dysfunctional consequences of mental imagery, spontaneous vs. enforced generation of mental imagery, and the role of imagery-based approach/withdrawal motivation in terminating the decision-making process.
... These imaginary episodes indicate meta-cognitive ability of considerable value, since they enable optimal preparation for diverse events [14], such as improvement of the ability to deal with scenarios while phrasing multiple possible outcomes or analyzing the likelihood of their occurrence [14,15]. Accordingly, people do not prepare for reasonable and desired future results; rather, they build, in addition, contingency plans for unwanted future situations and thus extend strategies for solving problems that may occur in the future [16]. ...
... In addition, the estimate of the ability for the more in-depth construction of future scenarios was observed, thus leading to the development of the EFT estimate. The development in these indices invites a multiplicity of results and likelihoods that can broaden strategies for decision making and problem solving [16]. However, a semantic expression of the long-awaited future did not indicate a change of attitudes and perceptions. ...
This research describes the contribution of the Utopia Now Program to the Future Time Perspective (FTP) and Episodic Future Thinking (EFT) of students from Israel and Austria. The research was carried out with triangulation of the research instruments in the qualitative approach. The research findings indicate that the program contributed to the development and depth of FTP and EFT on the personal level but was not expressed on the broader and global level.
... However, different arguments seem to support the thesis that when people are faced with risk, they use their mental imagery more intensely than when they encounter non-risky situations. First, processing mental images of risk, which, by definition, is a concept related to the possibility of harmful outcomes seems highly adaptive: the capacity for humans to mentally project themselves forward is considered a crucial evolutionary advantage Corballis, 1997, 2007;Manuck et al., 2003;Suddendorf and Busby, 2003;Dudai and Carruthers, 2005;Rick and Loewenstein, 2008;Bulley et al., 2020). If people, when faced with a severe threat, can rapidly generate mental images that visually portray scenes of suffering the negative consequences of risk taking, their risk perception may increase and become more accurate (Sinclair et al., 2021), which would protect them against exceeding the limits of acceptable risk. ...
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In an fMRI study, we tested the prediction that visualizing risky situations induces a stronger neural response in brain areas associated with mental imagery and emotions than visualizing non-risky and more positive situations. We assumed that processing mental images that allow for “trying-out” the future has greater adaptive importance for risky than non-risky situations, because the former can generate severe negative outcomes. We identified several brain regions that were activated when participants produced images of risky situations and these regions overlap with brain areas engaged in visual, speech, and movement imagery. We also found that producing images of risky situations, in contrast to non-risky situations, was associated with increased neural activation in the insular cortex and cerebellum–the regions involved, among other functions, in emotional processing. Finally, we observed an increased BOLD signal in the cingulate gyrus associated with reward-based decision making and monitoring of decision outcomes. In summary, risky situations increased neural activation in brain areas involved in mental imagery, emotional processing, and decision making. These findings imply that the evaluation of everyday risky situations may be driven by emotional responses that result from mental imagery.
... different functions from past-directed ones (see e.g. Bulley et al., 2020;Epstude & Roese, 2017;Schacter et al., 2017). For example, it has been suggested that confusions in the temporal orientation of episodic representations are a major driver of spontaneous confabulations in neurological patients (e.g. ...
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Human beings regularly "mentally travel" to past and future times in memory and imagination. In theory, whether an event is remembered or imagined (its "mnemicity") underspecifies whether it is oriented toward the past or the future (its "temporality"). However, it remains unclear to what extent the temporal orientation of such episodic simulations is cognitively represented separately from their status as memory or imagination. To address this question, we investigated to what extent episodic simulations are distinguishable in recall by virtue of both temporal orientation and mnemicity. In three experiments (N = 360), participants were asked to generate and later recall events differing along the lines of temporal orientation (past/future) and mnemicity (remembered/imagined). Across all of our experiments, we found that mnemicity and temporality each contributed to participants' ability to discriminate different types of event simulations in recall. However, participants were also consistently more likely to confuse in recall event simulations that shared the same temporal orientation rather than the same mnemicity. These results show that the temporal orientation of episodic simulations can be cognitively represented separately from their mnemicity and have implications for debates about the structure of episodic representations as well as the role of temporality in this structure. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).
... Different arguments seem to support the thesis that when people are faced with risk, they use their mental imagery more intensely than when they perceive neutral situations. First of all, using mental images of future risk-taking outcomes seems highly adaptive: the capacity that allows humans to mentally project themselves forward is considered a crucial evolutionary advantage [24][25][26][27][28][29][30] . Importantly, generating visual mental images goes beyond logically analyzing future outcomes and their likelihoods, which is not only time consuming but also requires high risk literacy 31,32 . ...
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In the present study, we used a neuroimaging technique (fMRI) to test the prediction that visualizing risky behaviors induces a stronger neural response in brain areas responsible for emotions and mental imagery than visualizing neutral behaviors. We identified several brain regions that were activated when participants produced mental images of risky versus neutral behaviors and these regions overlap with brain areas engaged in visual mental imagery, speech imagery and movement imagery. We also found that producing mental images of risky behaviors, in contrast to neutral behaviors, increased neural activation in the insula – a region engaged in emotional processing. This finding is in line with previous results demonstrating that the insula is recruited by tasks involving induction of emotional recall/imagery. Finally, we observed an increased BOLD signal in the cingulate gyrus (mid-cingulate area), which is associated with reward-based decision making and monitoring of decision outcomes. In summary, we demonstrated that mental images of risky behaviors, compared to risk-free behaviors, increased neural activation in brain areas engaged in mental imagery processes, emotional processing and decision making. These findings imply that the evaluation of everyday risky situations may originate in visualizing the potential consequences of risk taking and may be driven by emotional responses that result from mental imagery.
... Many theorists posit that the mind acquires much of its power from its ability to create and interface with external objects, props, aids, scaffolding, and tools [1,2,4,7,[22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30]. Although other species act upon their environment in ways that may feed back to influence cognition, such as when ants leave pheromone trails that guide themselves and other ants [31][32][33], humans appear to flexibly and intentionally exploit the environment for cognitive ends in unparalleled fashion [34,35]. Complementing a long tradition of research into the development of meta- . ...
Metacognition plays an essential role in adults’ cognitive offloading decisions. Despite possessing basic metacognitive capacities, however, preschool-aged children often fail to offload effectively. Here, we introduced 3- to 5-year-olds to a novel search task in which they were unlikely to perform optimally across trials without setting external reminders about the location of a target. Children watched as an experimenter first hid a target in one of three identical opaque containers. The containers were then shuffled out of view before children had to guess where the target was hidden. In the test phase, children could perform perfectly by simply placing a marker in a transparent jar attached to the target container prior to shuffling, and then later selecting the marked container. Children of all ages used this strategy above chance levels if they had seen it demonstrated to them, but only the 4- and 5-year-olds independently devised this external strategy to improve their future performance. These results suggest that, when necessary for optimal performance, even 4- and 5-year-olds can use metacognitive knowledge about their own future uncertainty to deploy effective external solutions. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
... Mental time travel enables us to navigate seamlessly back and forth through subjective time, to reorient ourselves to the present moment, and to be aware of current temporal dynamics. As will become apparent, mental time travel also underwrites a range of important adaptive functions, including emotion regulation and spatial navigation [3], anticipating and preparing for future threats [45][46][47], flexible decision-making [48], as well as maintaining a continuity of selfhood across one's subjective timeline [6,7]. ...
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The capacity for subjective time in humans encompasses the perception of time’s unfolding from moment to moment, as well as the ability to traverse larger temporal expanses of past- and future-oriented thought via mental time travel. Disruption in time perception can result in maladaptive outcomes—from the innocuous lapse in timing that leads to a burnt piece of toast, to the grievous miscalculation that produces a traffic accident—while disruption to mental time travel can impact core functions from planning appointments to making long-term decisions. Mounting evidence suggests that disturbances to both time perception and mental time travel are prominent in dementia syndromes. Given that such disruptions can have severe consequences for independent functioning in everyday life, here we aim to provide a comprehensive exposition of subjective timing dysfunction in dementia, with a view to informing the management of such disturbances. We consider the neurocognitive mechanisms underpinning changes to both time perception and mental time travel across different dementia disorders. Moreover, we explicate the functional implications of altered subjective timing by reference to two key and representative adaptive capacities: prospective memory and intertemporal decision-making. Overall, our review sheds light on the transdiagnostic implications of subjective timing disturbances in dementia and highlights the high variability in performance across clinical syndromes and functional domains.
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In an fMRI study, we tested the prediction that visualizing risky situations induces a stronger neural response in brain areas associated with mental imagery and emotions than visualizing non-risky and more positive situations. We assumed that processing mental images that allow for “trying-out” the future has greater adaptive importance for risky than non-risky situations, because the former can generate severe negative outcomes. We identified several brain regions that were activated when participants produced images of risky situations and these regions overlap with brain areas engaged in visual mental, speech, and movement imagery. We also found that producing images of risky situations, in contrast to non-risky situations, increased neural activation in the insula—a region involved in emotional processing. This finding is in line with previous results demonstrating that the insula is recruited by tasks involving induction of emotional recall/imagery. Finally, we observed an increased BOLD signal in the cingulate gyrus associated with reward-based decision making and monitoring of decision outcomes. In summary, risky situations increased neural activation in brain areas involved in mental imagery, emotional processing, and decision making. These findings imply that the evaluation of everyday risky situations may be driven by emotional responses that result from mental imagery.
Every day, people face choices which could produce negative outcomes for others, and understanding these decisions is a major aim of social psychology. Here, we show that episodic simulation – a key psychological process implicated in other types of social and moral decision-making – can play a surprising role. Across six experiments, we find that imagining performing actions which adversely affect others makes people report a higher likelihood of performing those actions in the future. This effect happens, in part, because when people construe the actions as morally justified (as they often do spontaneously), imagining doing it makes them feel good. These findings stand in contrast to traditional accounts of harm aversion in moral psychology, and instead contribute to a growing body of evidence that people often cast harming others in a positive light.
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We outline a dual systems approach to temporal cognition, which distinguishes between two cognitive systems for dealing with how things unfold over time – a temporal updating system and a temporal reasoning system – of which the former is both phylogenetically and ontogenetically more primitive than the latter, and which are at work alongside each other in adult human cognition. We describe the main features of each of the two systems, the types of behavior the more primitive temporal updating system can support, and the respects in which it is more limited than the temporal reasoning system. We then use the distinction between the two systems to interpret findings in comparative and developmental psychology, arguing that animals operate only with a temporal updating system and that children start out doing so too, before gradually becoming capable of thinking and reasoning about time. After this, we turn to adult human cognition and suggest that our account can also shed light on a specific feature of our everyday thinking about time that has been the subject of debate in the philosophy of time, which consists in a tendency to think about the nature of time itself in a way that appears ultimately self-contradictory. We conclude by considering the topic of intertemporal choice, and argue that drawing the distinction between temporal updating and temporal reasoning is also useful in the context of characterising two distinct mechanisms for delaying gratification.
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This study examined future‐oriented behavior in children (3–6 years; N = 193) from three diverse societies—one industrialized Western city and two small, geographically isolated communities. Children had the opportunity to prepare for two alternative versions of an immediate future event over six trials. Some 3‐year‐olds from all cultures demonstrated competence, and a majority of the oldest children from each culture prepared for both future possibilities on every trial. Although there were some cultural differences in the youngest age groups that approached ceiling performance, the overall results indicate that children across these communities become able to prepare for alternative futures during early childhood. This acquisition period is therefore not contingent on Western upbringing, and may instead indicate normal cognitive maturation.
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The current study explored under what conditions young children would set reminders to aid their memory for delayed intentions. A computerized task requiring participants to carry out delayed intentions under varying levels of cognitive load was presented to 63 children (aged between 6.9 and 13.0 years old). Children of all ages demonstrated metacognitive predictions of their performance that were congruent with task difficulty. Only older children, however, set more reminders when they expected their future memory performance to be poorer. These results suggest that most primary school-aged children possess metacognitive knowledge about their prospective memory limits, but that only older children may be able to exercise the metacognitive control required to translate this knowledge into strategic reminder setting.
Common sense suggests that it is always preferable to have more options than fewer, and better to have more knowledge than less. This provocative book argues that, very often, common sense fails. Sometimes it is simply the case that less is more; people may benefit from being constrained in their options or from being ignorant. The three long essays that constitute this book revise and expand the ideas developed in Jon Elster's classic study Ulysses and the Sirens. It is not simply a new edition of the earlier book, though; many of the issues merely touched on before are explored here in much more detail. Elster shows how seemingly disparate examples which limit freedom of action reveal similar patterns, so much so that he proposes a new field of study: constraint theory. The book is written in Elster's characteristically vivid style and will interest professionals and students in philosophy, political science, psychology, and economics.
As empirical research on mind-wandering accelerates, we draw attention to an emerging trend in how mind-wandering is conceptualized. Previously articulated definitions of mind-wandering differ from each other in important ways, yet they also maintain overlapping characteristics. This conceptual structure suggests that mind-wandering is best considered from a family-resemblances perspective, which entails treating it as a graded, heterogeneous construct and clearly measuring and describing the specific aspect(s) of mind-wandering that researchers are investigating. We believe that adopting this family-resemblances approach will increase conceptual and methodological connections among related phenomena in the mind-wandering family and encourage a more nuanced and precise understanding of the many varieties of mind-wandering.
The future harbours the potential for myriad threats to the fitness of organisms, and many species prepare accordingly based on indicators of hazards. Here, we distinguish between defensive responses on the basis of sensed cues and those based on autocues generated by mental simulations of the future in humans. Whereas sensed threat cues usually induce specific responses with reference to particular features of the environment or generalized responses to protect against diffuse threats, autocues generated by mental simulations of the future enable strategic preparation for hazards that may not require an immediate response. The overlap of these mechanisms makes defence effective and versatile, yet can manifest as contemporary anxiety disorders in humans.
How do people decide whether to sacrifice now for a future reward or to enjoy themselves in the present? Do the future gains of putting money in a pension fund outweigh going to Hawaii for New Year's Eve? Why does a person's self-discipline one day often give way to impulsive behavior the next? Time and Decision takes up these questions with a comprehensive collection of new research on intertemporal choice, examining how people face the problem of deciding over time. Economists approach intertemporal choice by means of a model in which people discount the value of future events at a constant rate. A vacation two years from now is worth less to most people than a vacation next week. Psychologists, on the other hand, have focused on the cognitive and emotional underpinnings of intertemporal choice. Time and Decision draws from both disciplinary approaches to provide a comprehensive picture of the various layers of choice involved. Shane Frederick, George Loewenstein, and Ted O'Donoghue introduce the volume with an overview of the research on time discounting and focus on how people actually discount the future compared to the standard economic model. Alex Kacelnik discusses the crucial role that the ability to delay gratification must have played in evolution. Walter Mischel and colleagues review classic research showing that four year olds who are able to delay gratification subsequently grow up to perform better in college than their counterparts who chose instant gratification. The book also delves into the neurobiology of patience, examining the brain structures involved in the ability to withstand an impulse. Turning to the issue of self-control, Klaus Wertenbroch examines the relationship between consumption and available resources, showing, for example, how a high credit limit can lead people to overspend. Ted O'Donoghue and Matthew Rabin show how people's awareness of their self-control problems affects their decision-making. The final section of the book examines intertemporal choice with regard to health, drug addiction, dieting, marketing, savings, and public policy. All of us make important decisions every day-many of which profoundly affect the quality of our lives. Time and Decision provides a fascinating look at the complex factors involved in how and why we make our choices, so many of them short-sighted, and helps us understand more precisely this crucial human frailty.
Episodic future thinking refers to the capacity to imagine or simulate experiences that might occur in one's personal future. Cognitive, neuropsychological, and neuroimaging research concerning episodic future thinking has accelerated during recent years. This article discusses research that has delineated cognitive and neural mechanisms that support episodic future thinking as well as the functions that episodic future thinking serves. Studies focused on mechanisms have identified a core brain network that underlies episodic future thinking and have begun to tease apart the relative contributions of particular regions in this network, and the specific cognitive processes that they support. Studies concerned with functions have identified several domains in which episodic future thinking produces performance benefits, including decision making, emotion regulation, prospective memory, and spatial navigation.