A Project of the University of Pennsylvania and the John Templeton Foundation

About Prospection

Prospection refers broadly to the mental representation and evaluation of possible futures. This may include planning, prediction, hypothetical scenarios, teleological patterns, daydreaming, and evaluative assessment of possible future events.  This ability to represent possible futures fundamentally shapes human cognitive, affective, and motivational systems and yet remains an understudied field of research. Effects of prospection on current cognition, emotion, motivation, and behavior are also of interest.

Prospection is a ubiquitous feature of the human mind.  For the past several decades, social science has concentrated on the antecedents of human action: how the past determines the present and the future.  The present initiative seeks to catalyze a change in the course of social science by moving prospection to the center of research on human action.

The ability for prospective thought is a fundamental psychological faculty akin to other basic endowments such as language and reasoning. Thus, prospective abilities – how much and how well a person is able to bring mental representations and evaluations of possible futures to bear on the selection of action – should be recognized as a basic explanatory variable in the psychological sciences. This initiative seeks to nurture the incipient science of prospection, and to ensure that gains in psychological and neuroscientific knowledge about prospection will be applied in ways that improve individual and social functioning.

For more information, read Seligman, Railton, Baumeister, and Sripada's (2013) foundational paper, "Navigating into the Future or Driven by the Past".