Mental Time Travel

Human beings are cognitively equipped to mentally travel back in time to remember and re-experience past events and to project the self forward in time to anticipate future happenings. Remembering the past and imagining the future are closely linked such that they engage similar cognitive processes and neural substrates. Our research examines individual and cultural factors that influence this link. For example, we find that, contrary to the common belief that people perceive their futures as brighter than their pasts, the perception of the future depends on what happened in the past. People expect things to change to better or worse from the past to the future based on their prior experiences (i.e., from good to bad or from bad to good), and this tendency is greater among Asians presumably because of their greater appreciation for dialectical thinking.   

Current projects investigate involuntary or “embodied” mental time travel; the effect of family communication practices on the development of mental time travel skills; and the moral function of past and future thinking.

Selected Publications

Jeon, H. J., Wang, Q., Burrow, A. L., & Ratner, K (2017). Perspectives of future health in self and others: The moderating role of culture. Journal of Health Psychology. doi: 10.1177/1359105317730897 PDF

Wang, Q., & Koh, J. B. K. (2015). How will things be the next time? Self in the construction of future events among school-aged children. Consciousness and Cognition, 36, 131-138. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2015.06.013 PDF

Wang, Q., Gould, T., & Hou, Y. (2015). Is the future always brighter than the past? Anticipation of changes in the personal future after recall of past experiences. Memory, 23, 178-186. doi:10.1080/09658211.2013.877147 PDF

Wang, Q., Capous, D., Koh, J. B. K., & Hou, Y. (2014). Past and future episodic thinking in middle childhood. Journal of Cognition and Development, 15, 4, 625-643. doi:10.1080/15248372.2013.784977 PDF

Wang, Q., Hou, Y., Tang, H., & Wiprovnick, A. (2011). Traveling backward and forward in time: Culture and gender in the episodic specificity of past and future events. Memory, 19(1), 103-109. doi:10.1080/09658211.2010.537279 PDF

Shao, Y., Yao, X., Ceci, S.J., & Wang, Q. (2010). Does the self drive mental time travel? Memory, 18, 8, 855-862. PDF