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

The shape of things to come: Exploring goal-directed prospection

Published: June, 2014

Investigator(s): Other Investigator(s)

Researcher(s): Christian, B. M., Miles, L. K., Fung, F. H. K., Best, S., & Macrae, C. N.


Through the ability to preview the future (i.e., prospection), people can anticipate how best to think, feel and act in just about any setting. But exactly what factors determine the contents of prospection? Extending research on action identification and temporal construal, here we explored how action goals and temporal distance modulate the characteristics of future previews. Participants were required to imagine travelling to Egypt (in the near or distant future) to climb or photograph a pyramid. Afterwards, to probe the contents of prospection, participants provided a sketch of their imaginary experience. Results elucidated the impact of goal type and temporal distance on mental imagery. While a climbing goal prompted participants to draw a larger pyramid in the near than distant future, a photographic goal influenced only the compositional complexity of the sketches. These findings reveal how action goals and temporal distance shape the contents of future simulations.

JTF grant funded: No