Psychonomic Society’s 62nd Annual Meeting
Presentation title: Personal likelihood and familiarity in the simulation of future events
Abstract: Episodic future thinking is the ability to project the self forward in time to pre-experience an event (Atance & O’Neill, 2001). Understanding how people think about potential future events is an important component of human memory research. We investigated whether and how episodic future thinking is influenced by a person's familiarity with that type of event based on their past experience, as well as a person's belief of the likelihood of its future occurrence in their lives. The individual and combined effects of these variables have been little studied, particularly likelihood. We used three norming studies to develop participant-specific sets of future events that varied by familiarity and likelihood. Participants generated events and rated phenomenological aspects of their simulations. Familiarity and likelihood interacted in influencing people's simulation of future events, specifically on the simulated perceptual information. Both variables influenced episodic future event simulations on their own as well. The enhancement of future event simulations by the likelihood of an event occurring in a person's future suggests that it is an important part of the underlying mechanisms that support episodic future thinking.
Lightning Talk and Poster title: I expect, ergo I ruminate. Into the mechanisms of future thinking using propensity score matching (PSM)
Abstract: Likely future events are experienced as phenomenologically clearer than unexpected events. I attempted to explore the underlying mechanism of this effect. I hypothesized that an event occurring in a person's future causes recurring simulations (or ruminations) of the event in the present. I collected ratings on event familiarity, future event likelihood, event emotional valence, ruminations about the event, and event future frequency (all highly related variables) of 187 events through an online survey of 81 participants. Because the related literature strongly supports the effect of familiarity on the simulation of future events, I first tested whether the relationship between likelihood and ruminations is due to a mediating effect of familiarity. I found a non-significant mediating effect of familiarity on the relationship between likelihood and rumination, suggesting an independent link between these. Subsequently, I used propensity score matching (PSM) to test whether there was a causal relationship between likelihood and rumination. I used PSM because of its potential to offer an alternative causal estimation procedure from data from non-experimental designs. I simulated three competing PSM models to test model accuracy: (1) Likelihood causes rumination, with familiarity, future frequency, and emotional valence as control variables; (2) Rumination causes likelihood to seek reciprocal causation; and (3) Familiarity causes likelihood, with the remaining variables as controls. Model 1 showed a significant treatment effect, but Models 2 and 3 did not. In conclusion, I found evidence that people think more often about events that are likely to be relevant in their future. This could be a feasible mechanism to explain how event likelihood affects the phenomenological experience through repeated previous simulations. Interestingly, people reported being aware of their thinking about the future, including not only its contents but also in terms of frequency.