The tendency for experiencing involuntary future and past mental time travel is robustly related to thought suppression: an exploratory study

  • Adriana del Palacio-GonzalezEmail author
  • Dorthe Berntsen
Original Article


Involuntary mental time travel (MTT) refers to projecting oneself into the past or into the future without prior conscious effort. The previous studies have shown high inter-individual variability in the frequency of involuntary MTT, but a few systematic studies exist. In three exploratory studies, we investigated the relation between individual differences in experiencing involuntary past and future MTT, and selected emotional and cognitive processes, with a special focus on thought suppression. Across all three studies, thought suppression emerged as a robust predictor of involuntary MTT above and beyond emotion-related variables, mind-wandering, daydreaming styles, and demographic variables. Findings from Studies 1 and 2 showed that higher thought suppression consistently predicted both more frequent involuntary past and future MTT across an American and a Danish sample, whereas rumination and emotion regulation were less consistently related to involuntary MTT. In Study 3, thought suppression reliably predicted more frequent involuntary MTT, even when controlling for mind-wandering, as well as for positive and negative daydreaming styles, which were all related to greater involuntary MTT. Overall, the individual differences assessed showed similar relationships to the tendency for having past and future involuntary MTT, with the possible exception of daydreaming styles, which appeared more strongly related to future-directed involuntary MTT.



This work was supported by the Danish National Research Foundation (DNRF) under Grant DNRF89. The DNRF had no involvement in the design of the current study or the interpretation of the results.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that there is no competing interest.

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.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, Center on Autobiographical Memory ResearchAarhus UniversityArhus CDenmark

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