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The evolution of foresight: What is mental time travel, and is it unique to

Summary: The evolution of foresight: What is
mental time travel, and is it unique to
Thomas Suddendorf
School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072,
Michael C. Corballis
Department of Psychology, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019,
Auckland 1142, New Zealand
Abstract: In a dynamic world, mechanisms allowing prediction of future situations can provide a selective advantage. We suggest that
memory systems differ in the degree of flexibility they offer for anticipatory behavior and put forward a corresponding taxonomy of
prospection. The adaptive advantage of any memory system can only lie in what it contributes for future survival. The most flexible
is episodic memory, which we suggest is part of a more general faculty of mental time travel that allows us not only to go back in
time, but also to foresee, plan, and shape virtually any specific future event. We review comparative studies and find that, in spite
of increased research in the area, there is as yet no convincing evidence for mental time travel in nonhuman animals. We submit
that mental time travel is not an encapsulated cognitive system, but instead comprises several subsidiary mechanisms. A theater
metaphor serves as an analogy for the kind of mechanisms required for effective mental time travel. We propose that future
research should consider these mechanisms in addition to direct evidence of future-directed action. We maintain that the


Source: Addis, Donna Rose - Department of Psychology, University of Auckland
Indiana University - Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition
Schacter, Daniel - Department of Psychology, Harvard University


Collections: Biology and Medicine; Multidisciplinary Databases and Resources