Time is among the most important yet mysterious aspects of experience. We investigated everyday mental time travel, especially into the future. Two community samples, contacted at random points for 3 (Study 1; 6,686 reports) and 14 days (Study 2; 2,361 reports), reported on their most recent thought. Both studies found that thoughts about the present were frequent, thoughts about the future also were common, whereas thoughts about the past were rare. Thoughts about the present were on average highly happy and pleasant but low in meaningfulness. Pragmatic prospection (thoughts preparing for action) was evident in thoughts about planning and goals. Thoughts with no time aspect were lower in sociality and experiential richness. Thoughts about the past were relatively unpleasant and involuntary. Subjective experiences of thinking about past and future often were similar—while both differed from present focus, consistent with views that memory and prospection use similar mental structures.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Funding for this research was provided by a Templeton Foundation grant to Martin Seligman and a subgrant to Roy Baumeister.
- social cognition