Episodic future thinking refers to the ability to imagine or simulate experiences that might occur in an individual’s personal future. It has been known for decades that cognitive aging is associated with declines in episodic memory, and recent research has documented correlated age-related declines in episodic future thinking. Previous research has considered both cognitive and neural mechanisms that are responsible for age-related changes in episodic future thinking, as well as effects of aging on the functions served by episodic future thinking. Studies concerned with mechanism indicate that multiple cognitive mechanisms contribute to changes in episodic future thinking during aging, including episodic memory retrieval, narrative style, and executive processes. Recent studies using an episodic specificity induction—brief training in recollecting episodic details of a recent experience—have proven useful in separating the contributions of episodic retrieval from other non-episodic processes during future thinking tasks in both old and young adults. Neuroimaging studies provide preliminary evidence of a role for age-related changes in default and executive brain networks in episodic future thinking and autobiographical planning. Studies concerned with function have examined age-related effects on the link between episodic future thinking and a variety of processes, including everyday problem-solving, prospective memory, prosocial intentions, and intertemporal choice/delay discounting. The general finding in these studies is for age-related reductions, consistent with the work on mechanisms that consistently reveals reduced episodic detail in older adults when they imagine future events. However, several studies have revealed that episodic simulation nonetheless confers some benefits for tasks tapping adaptive functions in older adults, such as problem-solving, prospective memory, and prosocial intentions, even though age-related deficits on these tasks are not eliminated or reduced by episodic future thinking.
Daniel L. Schacter, Aleea L. Devitt, and Donna Rose Addis
Life is filled with goals or intentions that people hope to realize. Some of these are rather mundane (e.g., remembering to purchase a key ingredient for a recipe when stopping at the market), while others are more significant (e.g., remembering to pick up one’s child from school at the end of the day). Prospective memory represents the ability to form and then realize intentions at an appropriate time. A fundamental aspect of prospective memory is that one is engaged in one or more tasks (i.e., ongoing activities) between the formation of an intention and the opportunity to realize the goal. For instance, in the shopping example, one might form the intention at home and then travel to the market and collect several other items before walking past the desired ingredient. Considerable research has demonstrated that the efficiency of prospective memory declines with age, although age-related differences are not universal. The neurocognitive processes underpinning age-related differences in the formation and realization of delayed intentions have been investigated in studies using event-related brain potentials. This research reveals that age-related differences in prospective memory arise from the disruption of neural systems supporting the successful encoding of intentions, the detection of prospective memory cues, and possibly processes supporting the retrieval of intentions from memory when a cue is encountered or efficiently shifting from the ongoing activity to the prospective element of the task. Therefore, strategies designed to ameliorate age-related declines in prospective memory should target a variety of processes engaged during the encoding, retrieval, and enactment of delayed intentions.
Sarah Krichbaum, Adam Davila, Lucia Lazarowski, and Jeffrey S. Katz
The contemporary field of animal cognition began over 150 years ago when Charles Darwin posed questions regarding the abilities of the animal mind. Animal cognition is a science dedicated to understanding the processes and mechanisms that allow nonhumans to think and behave. The techniques that are used and the species that are studied are diverse. The historical questions originally proposed by ethologist Nikolas Tinbergen as a framework for studying animal behavior remain at the core of the field. These questions are reviewed along with the domains and methods of animal cognition with a focus on concept learning, memory, and canine cognition. Finally, ideas on how a field rich in tradition and methodological strength should proceed in the future are presented.