The temporal distribution of past and future autobiographical events across the lifespan
Knowledge and awareness of past and future autobiographical events may be mediated by a common system that supports intentional, goal-directed behavior. The purpose of this study was to assess the correspondence of past and future autobiographical thought. In Experiment 1, 300 undergraduates aged 19 years generated and assigned dates to past and future autobiographical events. The temporal distribution of past events replicated a power function for retention as has been described in past research. The intention function of future autobiographical events fit the inverse of this same power function, reflecting a temporality of past and future mental time travel centered around the present moment. In Experiment 2, these findings were extended to young, middle-aged, and older groups. These data provide empirical support for the notion that thinking outside of “now” is mediated by a common system, regardless of whether one is thinking about the past or the future.