Imagining The Future


Dr. Donna Rose Addis

Interest, passion, excellence, persistence, motivation, goals, vision, sharing,

Research in the field of cognitive neuroscience.

Types of metal simulations

1) replay of past events and counter-factual thinking

2) furture thinking – process vs. outcome simulations

Characteristics of mental simulations

1) Dynamic and video like

2) Similar to real events -informed about people and settings -sequences of independent actions

3) Flexible details are extracted from episodic memory

* David Hume, you cannot imagine what you have not experienced

Different areas of the brain process different parts of the episode and those data bits are stores in different parts of the brain. The sights are stored in the visual cortex for example. It is this fragmented storage that always us to form novel simulations. When imaging the future, (imagination) the same areas of the brain are used when remembering the past. A region in the hippocampus showed more activity when the events were remembered in more detail. It also seemed more active when simulating rather than just remembering.

? If an amnesiac cannot remember the past can they imagine the future? Studies would say no “my mind is blank”.

In healthy aging there is mild hippocample atrophy. Being able to generate vivid simulations is fundamental to success.

Which is more effect at helping to realise future goals?

Process simulation: one sets a goals and mentally rehearses the steps one needs to go through to reach it. Self-regulation behavior 1) planning 2) Problem solving 3) Dealing with imagined obstacles – focuses on visualizing the process

Outcome simulation: often used in self help literature – focussing on visualizing the outcome.


A) Process simulation were the most successful both in effort and grade and the Outcome simulation were less successful than the control group.

B) Process simulation deceased anxiety and enhanced planning, lead to higher aspiration and higher performance.

C) Planning fallacy *Underestimate the time and resources *Overestimate the ease with which it will be done. Why? Optimism bias.. This is important as it motivates us to do stuff. We only try if it seems doable to begin with. Process simulation motivates people to finish closer to on time more than no simulation. Outcome simulation also improved finishing on time just not to the same extent.

D) Problem solving. Students are engaging more effective in problem solving and more able to seek support when using process simulation than outcome simulation. Subjects with hippocampus damage provided less vivid and less detailed solutions to get to the end point of a problem.

We need to be able to form memories of our simulations so that we can draw on them when carrying out our plans. The hippocampus seems to be integral to the process as well.

Conclusion for the classroom

Start each session (especially during on-going projects and revision) reviewing self regulatory behaviour through process simulation.


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