Eye movements disrupt episodic future thinking

Jean-François Bonnefon, Antimo Buonocore, Stefania De Vito, and Sergio Della Sala


Remembering the past and imagining the future both rely on complex mental imagery. We considered the possibility that constructing a future scene might tap a component of mental imagery that is not as critical for remembering past scenes. Whereas visual imagery plays an important role in remembering the past, we predicted that spatial imagery plays a crucial role in imagining the future. For the purpose of teasing apart the different components underpinning scene construction in the two experiences of recalling episodic memories and shaping novel future events, we used a paradigm that might selectively affect one of these components (i.e., the spatial). Participants performed concurrent eye movements while remembering the past and imagining the future. These concurrent eye movements selectively interfere with spatial imagery, while sparing visual imagery. Eye movements prevented participants from imagining complex and detailed future scenes, but had no comparable effect on the recollection of past scenes. Similarities between remembering the past and imagining the future are coupled with some differences. The present findings uncover another fundamental divergence between the two processes.

Published in

Memory, vol. 23, n. 6, August 2015, pp. 796–805