A cognitive procedure that allows us to determine deductions about what will happen in the future


Human beings remember the past, live the present and imagine the future. It is in that future that any option is possible.

The future is something that has not yet come to us, but we can imagine ourselves and how we are going to face what appears at that moment.

This action of seeing oneself in what could happen next is called future episodic thinking and is something fundamental in our behavior. It is what allows us to guide our behavior to reach an end, and then we will see it more in depth.

What is future episodic thinking?

Being able to think about the future is an integral component of human cognition. In fact, this ability to imagine events that have not yet taken place, but that we see as plausible in the future, is considered a crucial aspect when it comes to differentiating ourselves from other animals.

Episodic future thinking is the human ability to project our own existence to an event that has not yet occurred. It could be understood as our ability to imagine ourselves in an event that we believe is possible to occur. In essence, it is about pre-experiencing something, a future event.

From which part?

The idea of ​​future episodic thinking, originally conceptualized Cristina M. Atance and Daniela K. O'Neill, is based on the idea of ​​Endel Tulving's episodic memory.

This author classified memory into two types: semantic and episodic. According to Tulving, semantic memory is one that comes to be defined, broadly, as knowledge of the world (knowing meanings, dates of historical events, data in general ...). Instead, episodic memory has to do with being able to remember experiences related to our person, that is, re-experiencing past events.

For example, we would talk about semantic memory if we tried to remember the name of our institute, what our colleagues and teachers were called, what we saw in the biology course and what exactly Lamarck's theory was about. Instead, the episodic memory would have to do with memories brought to us by the institute, when we fight with one of our classmates or fail an exam and the teacher scolded us.

Based on this, it can be understood that episodic memory and seeing ourselves in a future situation have a lot to do. It is as if we remember, but instead of looking at the past we do it looking at the future.

Furthermore, this same idea is based on another by Tulving, the autonoetic consciousness, which is the one that mediates the knowledge of the individual's own existence and identity in a subjective time, extending from the personal past through the present to the future. personal.

This awareness, together with the idea of ​​episodic memory, would be what would allow us to "travel to the future". We would re-experience experiences already lived but projecting them towards the future.

It should be understood that when we talk about future episodic thinking it is not synonymous with "pure" imagination. In this process there is not an excessive creative process, but a visualization of what the future can be like, taking into account different factors, both positive and negative, that limit and focus the future scenario that we are pre-experiencing.

To understand it better, we may be planning a beach vacation. For this we are imagining ourselves enjoying those deserved vacations, but we also imagine ourselves working the week before to advance work, we imagine what we are going to put and what not in the backpack and what we are going to need while we are there. In other words, we set ourselves more or less realistic limits when imagining and experiencing the future event.

Related concepts

There are several concepts related to future episodic thinking.

Prospective memory

Prospective memory is one that we use when remembering something with the intention of carrying it out in the future. That is, it is taking into account an action that we want to take in the future with the intention of achieving a goal or objective.

For example, a prospective memory use case would be when we have to remember to send a message to a family member or friend the next time we see it, or water the plants the next time we go out on the balcony.

Within the prospective memory three processes are involved:

  • Develop a plan
  • Remember the plan
  • Remember at some point in the future to execute the plan

Future episodic thinking has a lot to do with prospective memory, especially when trying to create a way to remember what we have to do.

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