New paper: Prospection and Natural Selection

Along with Thomas Suddendorf and Beyon Miloyan, I have a new paper now available online for a special themed issue of “Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences” on ‘Survival Circuits’ edited by Joseph LeDoux and Dean Mobbs.

In the paper, called “Prospection and Natural Selection”, we review the adaptive functions of foresight as well as its potential costs. We draw on our own research as well as the growing body of research from others on the development of prospection in young children, its clinical relevance, and the capacities of other animals.

In the paper we describe findings from a series of studies on how human children and Great Apes deal with mutually exclusive future possibilities.

Here is the article abstract:

Prospection refers to thinking about the future, a capacity that has become the subject of increasing research in recent years. Here we first distinguish basic prospection, such as associative learning, from more complex prospection commonly observed in humans, such as episodic foresight, the ability to imagine diverse future situations and organize current actions accordingly. We review recent studies on complex prospection in various contexts, such as decision-making, planning, deliberate practice, information gathering, and social coordination. Prospection appears to play many important roles in human survival and reproduction. Foreseeing threats and opportunities before they arise, for instance, drives attempts at avoiding future harm and obtaining future benefits, and recognizing the future utility of a solution turns it into an innovation, motivating refinement and dissemination. Although we do not know about the original contexts in which complex prospection evolved, it is increasingly clear through research on the emergence of these capacities in childhood and on related disorders in various clinical conditions, that limitations in prospection can have profound functional consequences.

Here is a link to the article, and you can download a full PDF here.