Memories of the future: new insights into the adaptive value of episodic memory

  • Ingvar
  • Published 2013


Ingvar (1979, p. 21) theorized that memory plays a key role in allowing individuals to construct “alternative hypothetical behavior patterns in order to be ready for what may happen,” a process that he characterized as a “simulation of behavior”. Several years later, Ingvar elaborated these ideas by observing that “concepts about the future, like memories of past events, can be remembered, often in great detail” (Ingvar, 1985, p. 128), and that such “memories of the future” may offer important insights into the adaptive nature of human cognition. For instance, although the ability to simulate alternative versions of the future can benefit behavior, at least part of the adaptive advantage of future thinking may depend on the ability to remember the contents of simulated events (for discussion, see Suddendorf and Corballis, 1997, 2007; Szpunar, 2010; Schacter, 2012; Schacter et al., 2012). As an example, enlisting mental simulations of the future to help determine the best approach for resolving a conflict at home or in the workplace may confer few advantages if the outcome of the simulation process is not remembered at the time the simulated behavior is executed. Although much research exists concerning prospective memory – remembering to carry out future intentions (e.g., Kliegel et al., 2008; see also Brewer and Marsh, 2009) – there is a striking lack of evidence concerning “memory of the future” in the sense discussed by Ingvar, that is, memory for the contents of future simulations. Recently, however, several studies have provided the first glimpses into how well people remember details associated with simulated future events. In particular, these studies have demonstrated (1) enhanced memory for event details that are encoded with the future in mind, (2) factors that may influence the retention of simulated future events over extended time periods, and (3) neural correlates associated with encoding simulated future events. Next, we provide a brief overview of this emerging line of research, underscore the significance of various findings along with suggestions for future research directions, and conclude by discussing the relevance of this work to the concept of episodic memory. As we expand on below, it is our opinion that these new studies represent not only a useful extension of Ingvar’s (1979, 1985) seminal observations, but that they also offer novel insights into the adaptive value of episodic memory.

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@inproceedings{Ingvar2013MemoriesOT, title={Memories of the future: new insights into the adaptive value of episodic memory}, author={Ingvar}, year={2013} }