Emotional Future Thinking
One of the remarkable features of the human mind is that it allows us to mentally explore possible futures. A growing body of research indicates that this ability - often termed ‘episodic future thinking’ or prospection - is central to many aspects of human cognition and behavior, such as planning, decision making, self-control and sense of identity.
When anticipating personal future events, people sometimes experience intense emotional reactions, which in turn may influence how future simulations are remembered and how they affect decisions, self-control, and ultimately behavior. The emotional aspect of the mental simulation of a future event is thus a key aspect of prospection that impacts significantly on cognition, motivation, and behavior. Moreover, recent research suggests that there are important individual differences in the imagination of emotional future events, which might contribute to various psychopathological states and symptoms.
The precise factors underlying the construction of emotional prospections and their functional significance are far from being fully understood. In addition, the contribution of emotional future simulations to the emergence and/or maintenance of various psychopathological states remains to be investigated in detail. This research project aims at contributing to the elucidation of these issues.
This goal will be pursued through three interconnected subprojects:
- Studying the nature, the conditions of occurrence, and the functions of mental representations of future emotional events, as well as their modulation by individual differences in personality traits and psychological symptoms;
- Exploring the structure of emotional prospections within the cognitive system and determining the extent to which organized networks of emotional future thoughts contribute to shape emotional responses to current situations;
- Investigating the cognitive processes through which emotion influences episodic future thoughts.