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Psychol Res. 2018 Dec 10. doi: 10.1007/s00426-018-1127-z. [Epub ahead of print]

Spontaneous future cognitions: an integrative review.

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Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, Center on Autobiographical Memory Research, Aarhus University, Bartholins Allé 11, 8000, Aarhus C, Denmark.


Spontaneous future cognitions refer to mental representations about the future that enter consciousness with no immediately preceding attempt of bringing them to mind. They are studied under different terms in several areas of psychology, but with little interdisciplinary exchange of findings and theoretical developments. Different conceptions of spontaneous future cognition derive from separate literatures and are rarely considered together, leaving their potential conceptual overlaps as well as their unique features unclarified. In this article, I review research on spontaneous future cognitions in relation to mind wandering, involuntary episodic future thoughts, and intrusive future imagery in cravings and clinical disorders. I conclude that more research is needed to clarify the potential functions served by spontaneous future cognitions in everyday life, under which conditions they may become dysfunctional, how they are triggered by situational cues, and how their content may be constrained by motivational factors and beliefs. The burgeoning field of spontaneous future cognitions forms a promising novel approach to the cognitive and motivational regulation of behavior in everyday life.


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