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  • Cited by 25
  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: November 2012

16 - Autobiographical memory and future thinking


From the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep, we spend much time thinking about all sorts of events and situations that are yet to happen – an errand to run this afternoon, an appointment at the dentist tomorrow, the next lab meeting, a romantic dinner tonight, plans for the weekend, a job interview next month, to give just a few examples. Young adults may experience, on average, around sixty thoughts about the future during a typical day (i.e., one future thought every 16 minutes), and much of these thoughts probably serve important functions, such as planning and decision making (D’Argembeau, Renaud, and Van der Linden, 2011). The ability to imagine and plan for the future (here referred to as “future thinking”) is thus clearly a prominent feature of the human mind.

How do we mentally represent future events? What are our thoughts and mental images of the future made of? How are they constructed? The purpose of this chapter is to explore these issues. The first section reviews recent research that has revealed that the capacity to imagine future events is closely related to the capacity to remember past events. Next, I dig further into the nature of this relationship and consider the possible contribution of different kinds of autobiographical knowledge structures to the representation of future events. Finally, recent findings about the component processes underlying future thinking are presented and discussed.

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