New paper: Look before you leap…

My most recent paper is now out online in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. It was the result of a long collaboration between myself and my co-authors Beyon Miloyan, Gillian Pepper, Matthew Gullo, Julie Henry, and Thomas Suddendorf.

The paper focusses on a simple question: how does imagining the future influence the decisions we make in the present? The paper is available through the QJEP website here, or as a PDF here.

All of the data, code, & a pre-print are also available through the Open Science Framework here: 

Abstract: Humans frequently create mental models of the future, allowing outcomes to be inferred in advance of their occurrence. Recent evidence suggests that imagining positive future events reduces delay discounting (the devaluation of reward with time until its receipt), while imagining negative future events may increase it. Here, using a sample of 297 participants, we experimentally assess the effects of cued episodic simulation of positive and negative future scenarios on decision- making in the context of both delay discounting (monetary choice questionnaire) and risk-taking (balloon-analogue risk task). Participants discounted the future less when cued to imagine positive and negative future scenarios than they did when cued to engage in control neutral imagery. There were no effects of experimental condition on risk-taking. Thus, although these results replicate previous findings suggesting episodic future simulation can reduce delay discounting, they indicate that this effect is not dependent on the valence of the thoughts, and does not generalise to all other forms of “impulsive” decision-making. We discuss various interpretations of these results, and suggest avenues for further research on the role of prospection in decision-making.

We explored various relationships in the self-reported vividness, personal relevance, and emotional impact of imagined future events
Imagining future events can shift choices to larger, later rewards (an index of patience), and it doesn’t matter whether those events are positive or negative. But this doesn’t extend to impulsivity in general: we found no effects of imagining the future on taking risks.