Mental time travel (MTT) is the ability to mentally project oneself backward or forward in time, in order to remember an event from one’s personal past or to imagine a possible event in one’s personal future. Recent work has suggested that, although past and future MTT may rely on shared neurocognitive substrates, the two temporal directions may interact differently with components of this underlying system. Here, we asked 151 participants to recall or imagine past and future autobiographical events in response to high- and low-imageable cue words. The results showed that high- and low-imageable cued events differed markedly on almost all measures, suggesting that imagery acts as a facilitator when constructing both past and possible future events. In line with previous work, future events less often referred to specific events, contained fewer details, and were more positive and idyllic than past events. However, these main effects were qualified by a number of interactions. In particular, we found an increased effect of cue imageability for past as compared to future events, suggesting that the generation of past events is more sensitive to the ability of the cues to invoke the sensory components of the encoding context, whereas the construction of future events is more driven by context-independent schemata.
Memory and Cognition, 2014, Vol 42, Issue 7, p. 1063-1075