The Devil is in the Details: Comparisons of Episodic Simulations of Positive and Negative Future Events

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Abstract

Over the past decade, psychologists have devoted considerable attention to episodic simulation—the ability to imagine specific hypothetical events. Perhaps one of the most consistent patterns of data to emerge from this literature is that positive simulations of the future are rated as more detailed than negative simulations of the future, a pattern of results that is commonly interpreted as evidence for a positivity bias in future thinking. In the present article, we demonstrate across two experiments that negative future events are consistently simulated in more detail than positive future events when frequency of prior thinking is taken into account as a possible confounding variable and when level of detail associated with simulated events is assessed using an objective scoring criterion. Our findings are interpreted in the context of the mobilization-minimization hypothesis of event cognition that suggests people are especially likely to devote cognitive resources to processing negative scenarios.

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