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Exp Brain Res. 2009 Jan;192(3):553-60. doi: 10.1007/s00221-008-1491-9. Epub 2008 Jul 19.

Mental time travel and the shaping of language.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, 1042, New Zealand.


Episodic memory can be regarded as part of a more general system, unique to humans, for mental time travel, and the construction of future episodes. This allows more detailed planning than is afforded by the more general mechanisms of instinct, learning, and semantic memory. To be useful, episodic memory need not provide a complete or even a faithful record of past events, and may even be part of a process whereby we construct fictional accounts. The properties of language are aptly designed for the communication and sharing of episodes, and for the telling of stories; these properties include symbolic representation of the elements of real-world events, time markers, and combinatorial rules. Language and mental time travel probably co-evolved during the Pleistocene, when brain size increased dramatically.

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