Psychological Science 2017, 40(6) 1353-1358 DOI:     ISSN: 0412-1961 CN: 21-1139/TG

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goal-directed episodic future thinking
neural mechanism
LIU Shuang-Mei
YANG Lian-Lian
LV Hou-Tiao
Article by Liu,S.M
Article by Yang,L.L
Article by Lv,H.T

Goal-directed episodic future thinking


Episodic future thinking(EFT) is a projection of the self into the future to re-experience an evevt. It plays a significant role in intention, planning, decision making and goal-striving which benefit goal attainment. Compared to non-goal directed EFT, goal-directed EFT rates higher on vividness and affective characteristics, and more in agreement with memories from past events. In conclusion, goal-directed EFT benefits goal attainment, which in turn, benefits EFT. According to previous research, goal-directed EFT can split into process-simulation and outcome-simulation which enhance goal pursuit in different ways. Process-simulation allow an individual to keep desired goals in mind, integrate potentially complex information, and make decisions about how to overcome an obstacle or exert a plan, which facilitate the link between intentions and actions. Outcome-simulation focus on the affective and reward-related facets of future goals, individuals with outcome-simulation are able to pre-experience what it would feel like to attain a goal, compare different hypothetical outcome scenarios, make decisions cogruent with long-term goals. The two types of goal-directed EFT are not totally isolate, instead, they need to function together. When participants imagined going through a sequence of steps necessary to achieve the personal goal, regions of the default network could form funtional networks with regions of the frontoparietal control network; while when participants imagined events they associated with actually attaining a goal, default network regions flexibly coupled with reward-processing regions. Besides the reaearch about neural networks, there is also a growing research in specific regions, for example, ventral medial prefrontal cortex(vmPFC) and posterior cingulate cortex(PCC). At present, research found vmPFC active more in condition of goal-directed EFT, there are two main possibliliyies:One is that mPFC can contribute to the subjective appraisal of the personal relevance of mental contents, resulting in an abstract representation of their affective meaning or value that may be of critical importance to guide later thoughts, decisions, and behaviors; Another is that the mPFC mediates the integration of imagined experiences within higher-order autobiographical knowledge structures. According to Construal level theory(CLT), temporal distance can influence the degree of abstraction of mental representation. Specifically speaking, when the tempoal distance is near, we usally do process-simulation, when temporal distance is far,we we usally do outcome-simulation. In the future, we should study how to keep balance between these two types of goal-directed EFT to make better dicesion and whether it is the same under different condition. People do change with time, so are their goals and EFT. Research found old people and young people have significant difference when they do EFT tasks and their goals, future studies needed to invistigate whether goal-directed EFT change as well as people’s EFT and their goals. At last but not the least, there is evidence show that direct EFT is more related to people’s current concern,future studies should examine if there is any relationship between the frequency of directed EFT and the improtance of goals.

Keywords goal-directed episodic future thinking   outcome-simulation   process-simulation   neural mechanism  
Received 2017-01-05 Revised 2017-06-19 Online: 2017-11-20 
Corresponding Authors: Hou-Chao LV
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