Simulation, False Memories, and the Planning of Future Events

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Abstract

Three experiments investigated the relationship between future thinking and false memories. In Experiment 1, participants remembered familiar events (e.g., a holiday) from their past, imagined planning the same events in the future, or took part in a control condition in which they visualized typical events. They then rated a series of schema-related and schema-unrelated nouns for how likely they were to be encountered within those events. In a surprise recognition test, participants in the future condition falsely recognized more schema-related items than participants in the past and control conditions. No reliable effects of rating condition were observed in correct recognition. Experiment 2 found the same pattern when participants imagined unfamiliar events (e.g., taking part in a bank robbery) from past or future perspectives. Participants in Experiment 3 remembered a past or imagined a future holiday and were then instructed to generate items that someone might take on a holiday. Participants in the future condition generated more nonstudied items and fewer studied items relative to participants in the past condition. The findings of Experiments 1 and 2 indicate that simulating future events enhances the activation of related items that gives rise to false memories. The findings of Experiment 3 suggest that these activation processes play an adaptive role in guiding the planning of future events.

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