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Conscious Cogn. 2004 Dec;13(4):844-58.

Phenomenal characteristics associated with projecting oneself back into the past and forward into the future: influence of valence and temporal distance.

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Department of Cognitive Psychopathology, University of Li├Ęge, Belgium.


As humans, we frequently engage in mental time travel, reliving past experiences and imagining possible future events. This study examined whether similar factors affect the subjective experience associated with remembering the past and imagining the future. Participants mentally "re-experienced" or "pre-experienced" positive and negative events that differed in their temporal distance from the present (close versus distant), and then rated the phenomenal characteristics (i.e., sensorial, contextual, and emotional details) associated with their representations. For both past and future, representations of positive events were associated with a greater feeling of re-experiencing (or pre-experiencing) than representations of negative events. In addition, representations of temporally close events (both past and future) contained more sensorial and contextual details, and generated a stronger feeling of re-experiencing (or pre-experiencing) than representations of temporally distant events. It is suggested that the way we both remember our past and imagine our future is constrained by our current goals.

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