New insights into the cognitive and functional properties of human prospection
Neroni, Maria Adriana
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A remarkable feature of the human mind is its capacity to momentarily disengage from the immediate environment in order to contemplate hypothetical future scenarios. This thesis focuses on human prospection, investigating some of the methods used to assess it, its cognitive properties and the functional relevance of this extraordinary ability to anticipate and pre-experience future contingencies. Two experiments carried out with young healthy participants show that the methods used to elicit prospection, the temporal distance and the valence of envisioned events, may affect its content as well as its characteristics. Two studies involving healthy participants of different ages as well as amnesic patients investigate the contribution of long-term memory to scene construction processes. The results provide evidence supporting the hypothesis that a common underlying memory-related factor, the capacity to construct a rich narrative, can influence the descriptions of a-temporal, future and current scenes alike. The third issue concerns the relationship between episodic future simulation and prospective memory. Five experiments with young healthy participants show that mentally pre-experiencing future contingencies associated to an intended action aids prospective remembering, over and above deep encoding processing. Overall, the results of the experiments discussed in the present thesis strengthen the view of prospection as a complex process, which, far from being encapsulated in a single cognitive function, impinges upon a constellation of constituent abilities, which may be adaptively used to anticipate and guide future behaviour.