Episodic foresight and anxiety: Proximate and ultimate perspectives

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Abstract

Objective.

In this paper, we examine the relationship between episodic foresight and anxiety from an evolutionary perspective, proposing that together they confer an advantage for modifying present moment decision-making and behaviour in the light of potential future threats to fitness.

Methods.

We review the body of literature on the role of episodic foresight in anxiety, from both proximate and ultimate perspectives.

Results.

We propose that anxious feelings associated with episodic simulation of possible threat-related future events serve to imbue these simulations with motivational currency. Episodic and semantic details of a future threat may be insufficient for motivating its avoidance, but anxiety associated with a simulation can provoke adaptive threat management. As such, we detail how anxiety triggered by a self-generated, threat-related future simulation prepares the individual to manage that threat (in terms of its likelihood and/or consequences) over greater temporal distances than observed in other animals. We then outline how anxiety subtypes may represent specific mechanisms for predicting and managing particular classes of fitness threats.

Conclusions.

This approach offers an inroad for understanding the nature of characteristic future thinking patterns in anxiety disorders and serves to illustrate the adaptive function of the mechanism from which clinical anxiety deviates.

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