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Gepubliceerd in: Psychological Research 4/2019

29-09-2018 | Original Article

Absence of age effects on spontaneous past and future thinking in daily life

Auteurs: Elizabeth Ann Warden, Benjamin Plimpton, Lia Kvavilashvili

Gepubliceerd in: Psychological Research | Uitgave 4/2019

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Abstract

Previous research on voluntary mental time travel (i.e., deliberately thinking about the past or future) has resulted in negative age effects. In contrast, studies on spontaneous past thoughts (i.e., involuntary autobiographical memories) have reported small or no age effects. The aim of the present research was to investigate the effects of age on the nature and frequency of spontaneous future thoughts in everyday life. In two studies, we examined whether older adults reported spontaneous future thoughts as often as younger adults, and whether these thoughts were predominantly goal-oriented and less dependent on incidental cues than thoughts about the past. In Study 1, young and old participants kept a diary of spontaneous thoughts of upcoming prospective memory tasks and involuntary autobiographical memories for 2 weeks. In Study 2, a 1-day experience sampling method was used to investigate spontaneous and deliberate task-unrelated future and past thoughts, by having young and old participants complete a questionnaire in response to 30 random signals. In both studies, no age effects were found in the frequency of spontaneous future thoughts, which were reported as frequently as thoughts about the past (Study 2) and referred predominantly to upcoming tasks and goals rather than future events or hypothetical events (Study 2). Results concerning the triggers of reported thoughts provide initial support for the idea that representations of future thoughts may be more activated than memories of past events. Taken together, these results have important implications for research on cognitive ageing, mind-wandering, prospective memory and involuntary autobiographical memories.
Voetnoten
1
However, young and old groups did not differ in the percentage of participants who were employed (24% and 26%, respectively), and given that students often have a lot of self-managed time outside of university work, it could be argued that the groups were comparable and similar to the samples used in previous naturalistic and experience sampling studies of spontaneous past and future thoughts (e.g., Berntsen & Jacobsen, 2008; Gardner & Ascoli, 2015; Kvavilashvili & Fisher, 2007).
 
2
A small percentage of entries were reported at times that occurred before the prompt time, and may have been due to simple perceptual errors or time differences in participants’ own clocks. These cases were excluded from the percentage of compliance times recorded above.
 
3
The finding that 23% of the thoughts sampled were task-unrelated is modest compared to other experience sampling studies that indicated that people spent between 25% and 50% of their day engaged in task-unrelated thought (Kane et al., 2007; Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010). Previous studies, however, relied on participants’ own categorization of their thoughts, which could have resulted in biases (e.g., incorrectly interpreting task-related interference as mind-wandering). Additionally, the current study adopted very stringent criteria, and borderline cases were coded as task-related rather than task-unrelated.
 
4
For laboratory studies in which the Intention Superiority Effect is measured via speeded reaction times to the content of to-be-carried out tasks see Dockree and Ellis (2001), Goschke and Kuhl (1993) and Marsh, Hicks and Bink (1998).
 
5
It is, however, worth pointing out that we chose one non-working day to make the samples of young and old participants more comparable in terms of the nature of activities involved.
 
6
Our sample sizes were comparable to those used in previous diary studies of involuntary past and future thinking in which 20–25 participants have been used per condition (e.g., Berntsen & Jacobsen, 2008; Finnbogadóttir, & Berntsen, 2011; Kvavilashvili & Fisher, 2007; Rasmussen & Berntsen, 2011). Power calculations using G*Power 3 (Faul, Erdfelder, Lang & Buchner, 2007), showed that with the sample size we had in Study 1 (based on at least 19 participants in each condition), for the 2 age (young vs. old) x 2 thought type (past vs. future) mixed ANOVA, the power to detect a medium to large effect of age as measured by partial eta-squared (ηp2 = 0.10) was 0.61, and the power to detect an interaction of medium size (ηp2 = 0.06) was 0.85 (with the correlation between the dependent variables of 0.58 and the non sphericity correction of 1.00). In Study 2, with the existing sample size of at least 22 participants per group, in the 2 age (young vs. old) a 5 thought type (Task-related, task-unrelated interference, task-unrelated, external distraction, no thought) mixed ANOVA, we had the power of 0.80 to detect a medium size age effect of ηp2 = 0.06, and the power of 0.75 to detect a medium to large size interaction of ηp2 = 0.10 (with the correlation between the dependent measurements of 0.17 and the sphericity correction of 0.25). These calculations show that we had sufficient power to detect medium to large size affects that have been often reported in the cognitive ageing literature.
 
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Metagegevens
Titel
Absence of age effects on spontaneous past and future thinking in daily life
Auteurs
Elizabeth Ann Warden
Benjamin Plimpton
Lia Kvavilashvili
Publicatiedatum
29-09-2018
Uitgeverij
Springer Berlin Heidelberg
Gepubliceerd in
Psychological Research / Uitgave 4/2019
Print ISSN: 0340-0727
Elektronisch ISSN: 1430-2772
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-018-1103-7