The Future You: Deja Vu?
Your Brain May Reach Back Into Your Past to Imagine Your Future
Jan. 5, 2007 -- What will you be like in the future? Your brain's
predictions may be rooted in your past.
Psychology researchers at Washington University in St. Louis recently asked
21 young adults (average age: 22 years) to do a little mental time
Participants spent 10 seconds vividly recalling a past personal event, such
as a birthday. They also spent 10 seconds imagining a similar future event,
such as an upcoming birthday.
Meanwhile, they got high-tech brain scans using functional magnetic
resonance imaging (fMRI).
The brain scans showed that several brain areas that were active while
participants imagined themselves in the future were also active when they
remembered themselves in the past.
But past and future didn't totally overlap in the brain. Some brain areas
involved in picturing the future weren't as active in recalling the past.
For comparison, the researchers -- who included graduate student Karl
Szpunar -- also asked participants to imagine former U.S. President Bill
Clinton in specific settings, such as Clinton's past or future birthdays.
Why Clinton? Participants knew what he looks like but didn't know him
Brain scans taken while participants thought about Clinton showed similar
patterns of brain activity, but to a lesser extent, as when they thought about
their own past and present.
"Our findings provide compelling support for the idea that memory and
future thought are highly interrelated and help explain why future thought may
be impossible without memories," Szpunar says in a university news
The findings may also help explain memory's role in evolution, Szpunar
"It may just be that the reason we can recollect our past in vivid
detail is that this set of processes is important for being able to envision
ourselves in future scenarios," he says.