Aging Clinical and Experimental Research

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 109–119 | Cite as

Episodic future thinking: the role of working memory and inhibition on age-related differences

Original Article


The ability to remember past events and imagine future events (episodic future thinking—EFT) has been shown to decline with aging. However, only few studies have analyzed the cognitive mechanisms involved in EFT in both young and older adults. The present study examined the role of working memory and inhibition on age-related differences between young and older adults in EFT, in response to short sentences reflecting common events, some of which were repeated in both conditions (past and future). Thirty-seven young and 36 older adults completed an adapted version of the autobiographical interview, in which sentences were presented. Results showed that processing resources explained a significant part of the variance in the amount of details; in particular, inhibition explained the amount of external details produced in the future condition. In addition, using sentences, the older group did not differ from the young adults in terms of the proportion of internal details recalled in the past condition, whereas they produced a lower proportion of internal details in the future condition. The effect of using structured material was reinforced by repeating some sentences in the past. Further, only older adults rated the remembered episodes as more emotionally salient and relevant than the imagined ones. Age-related differences between young and older adults in EFT appear to depend on the type of material used, on basic mechanisms of cognition, and are characterized by both quantitative and qualitative differences.


Episodic future thinking Aging Working memory Inhibition 



The authors wish to thank Irene Grasso for helping in data processing. This work was supported by a grant from the Italian Ministry of Research and Education (Progetto PRIN: 2010P8LRP7_003).

Conflict of interest


Human and Animal Rights

The study was conducted according to standards derived from the Declaration of Helsinki.

Informed consent

A written informed consent was obtained from every patient.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of General PsychologyUniversity of PadovaPaduaItaly

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