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Conscious Cogn. 2011 Dec;20(4):1120-6. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2010.12.017. Epub 2011 Jan 31.

Self-reflection and the temporal focus of the wandering mind.

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Department of Social Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany.


Current accounts suggest that self-referential thought serves a pivotal function in the human ability to simulate the future during mind-wandering. Using experience sampling, this hypothesis was tested in two studies that explored the extent to which self-reflection impacts both retrospection and prospection during mind-wandering. Study 1 demonstrated that a brief period of self-reflection yielded a prospective bias during mind-wandering such that participants' engaged more frequently in spontaneous future than past thought. In Study 2, individual differences in the strength of self-referential thought - as indexed by the memorial advantage for self rather than other-encoded items - was shown to vary with future thinking during mind-wandering. Together these results confirm that self-reflection is a core component of future thinking during mind-wandering and provide novel evidence that a key function of the autobiographical memory system may be to mentally simulate events in the future.

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