Recent evidence suggests that some simulations of future events are encoded in memory and later recalled as “memories of the future,” but the factors that determine the memorability of future simulations remain poorly understood. The current research aimed to test the hypothesis that imagined future events are better memorized when they are integrated in autobiographical knowledge structures. Across two experiments, we found that future events that involved the self were better recalled than future events that involved an acquaintance (Experiment 1), and that future events that were related to personal goals were better recalled than future events that were unrelated to goals (Experiment 2). Although self-reference and personal goals influenced the phenomenological characteristics of future simulations (e.g., their vividness and the clarity of event components), the enhanced recall of self-relevant and goal-relevant simulations was not simply due to these differences in the characteristics of simulations. Taken together, these findings suggest that the integration of simulated events with preexisting autobiographical knowledge is an important determinant of memories of the future.
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Although we did not initially plan to investigate gender differences, following a reviewer’s suggestion, we explored whether recall performance differed as a function of gender. There was no significant difference between men and women, and thus we report data collapsed across gender.
In some additional exploratory analyses, we also examined whether the effect of self-reference remained significant when each of the other the characteristics that differed between conditions (i.e., clarity of objects, other sensory details, visual perspective) were entered as predictors in the regression model. The enhanced recall of future simulations in the self-reference condition remained significant when these dimensions were taken into account.
Although we examined the proportion of future events that had been rehearsed, we did not analyze rehearsal frequency because the large majority of event simulations had been not thought about during the previous week (i.e., 86%, 96% and 98% for self, close friend, and acquaintance conditions, respectively), leaving insufficient data about rehearsal frequency to perform relevant analyses.
There was no significant difference between men and women in recall performance, and thus we report data collapsed across gender.
We also examined whether the effect of goal relevance remained significant when the characteristics of events (personal importance, probability of occurrence) that differed between conditions, as well as previous thoughts, were taken into account. To do so, these dimensions were introduced individually as predictors in the regression model. The enhanced recall of future simulations in the goal-related condition remained significant when these dimensions were taken into account.
Although we also measured the frequencies of rehearsal and sharing of reported future events, the majority of event simulations were not thought about (i.e., 80% and 96% for goal-related and goal-unrelated events, respectively) or shared (91% and 100% for goal-related and goal-unrelated events, respectively) during the previous week, leaving insufficient data to perform analyses on these two variables.
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Arnaud D’Argembeau and Olivier Jeunehomme are supported by the Fund for Scientific Research (F.R.S.-FNRS), Belgium.
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The original version of this article was revised: The values for Personal goals were placed alongside the column headings instead of under the column headings in Table 8 in this article as originally published.
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Jeunehomme, O., D’Argembeau, A. The role of self-reference and personal goals in the formation of memories of the future. Mem Cogn (2021). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13421-021-01150-9
- Autobiographical memory
- Episodic future thinking
- Episodic memory
- Personal goals