Spontaneous activation of event details in episodic future simulation

Yuichi Ito, Yuri Terasawa, Satoshi Umeda, Jun Kawaguchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Episodic future simulation is supported by both the retrieval and recombination of episodic details. It remains unclear, however, how individuals retrieve episodic details from memory to construct possible future scenarios; for this people must use details related to the planned future events appropriately. A potentially relevant cognitive process is the spontaneous activation of intention observed in prospective memory (i.e., the intention superiority effect). Previous studies on prospective memory have shown that the approximation of retrieval opportunities for future intentions activate related information, suggesting that the intention superiority effect is context-sensitive. We hypothesized that the same cognitive process underlies future simulation-that is, details related to future events should spontaneously become activated at the appropriate moment of future simulation to make that simulation plausible. In Experiment 1, participants took part in future experiments and formed intentions to perform particular actions for the next experiments. Subsequently, they imagined events that could occur up until they arrived at the experimental room on the day of the next experiment. During this exercise, they did not imagine engaging in the required experimental task. We measured the conceptual activation of intention-related information via a recognition task using intended action words as targets. The results showed the intention superiority effect-concepts related to participants' future intentions became active when envisioning future events approaching the next experiment. In Experiments 2 and 3, we ensured that the intention superiority effect in future simulation was context-sensitive by adding a control condition that required participants to imagine events other than the approaching future experiments. These results indicated that concepts related to the intended actions were spontaneously activated when imagined future events became both temporally and spatially close to the future simulation. Our finding suggests that spontaneous activation of details approaching the context of a future simulation helps in constructing plausible future scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
Article number625
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberMAR
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Contextsensitivity
  • Episodic future thinking
  • Future simulation
  • Intention superiority effect
  • Memory retrieval
  • Prospective memory
  • Recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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