Conceiving the Past and Future
The authors compared people's views of their histories and futures by asking them to recall and anticipate personally significant episodes. It was hypothesized and found in Study 1 that individuals spontaneously recall an affectively mixed past, containing both “highs” and “lows,” whereas they anticipate homogeneously ideal futures. It was further hypothesized that people devote little thought to negative futures, and this was tested directly in Studies 2 and 3 by assessing how quickly past and likely future events came to mind. Asked to report positive and negative episodes from the past and future, participants took longer to generate future negative than positive events. Speed of recall was unaffected by the valence of past episodes. In Study 4, the response latency difference was again replicated for future events and it was demonstrated that people are slower in both generating negative future events and judging those events as likely.