Shared cognitive processes underlying past and future thinking: the impact of imagery and concurrent task demands on event specificity

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Recent literature has argued that whereas remembering the past and imagining the future make use of shared cognitive substrates, simulating future events places heavier demands on executive resources. These propositions were explored in 3 experiments comparing the impact of imagery and concurrent task demands on speed and accuracy of past event retrieval and future event simulation. Results provide support for the suggestion that both past and future episodes can be constructed through 2 mechanisms: a noneffortful "direct" pathway and a controlled, effortful "generative" pathway. However, limited evidence emerged for the suggestion that simulating of future, compared with retrieving past, episodes places heavier demands on executive resources; only under certain conditions did it emerge as a more error prone and lengthier process. The findings are discussed in terms of how retrieval and simulation make use of the same cognitive substrates in subtly different ways.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)356-365
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


  • dual-task, future thinking, imagery, memory, mental time travel


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