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23-01-2019 | Original Article | Uitgave 4/2019

Psychological Research 4/2019

Inducing spontaneous future thoughts in younger and older adults by priming future-oriented personal goals

Psychological Research > Uitgave 4/2019
Magda Jordão, Maria Salomé Pinho, Peggy L. St. Jacques
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s00426-019-01146-w) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
These results were partially presented at the Cognitive Science Arena in Brixen, Italy (February 2018), in the Center on Autobiographical Memory Research (CON AMORE) conference in Aarhus, Denmark (June 2018), and at the Meeting of the Experimental Psychology division of the Italian Psychology Association, Rome, Italy (September 2018).

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In the past 15 years, the study of spontaneous thoughts (i.e., thoughts coming to mind without intention and effort) has received increased attention. Spontaneous future thoughts (SFTs) are particularly important (e.g., in planning), yet difficult to study with regard to age differences. Two main problems arise: (1) lab tasks including word-cues induce more past than future thoughts; (2) younger adults report more spontaneous thoughts than older adults. To improve the elicitation of SFTs, we developed a future-oriented goal-related priming procedure and analyzed the extension of the goal-related priming effect in SFTs to older adults, to examine whether age-related changes in personal goals compromise the elicitation of SFTs. We also controlled for methodological factors that could influence age groups differently (including demand, retrospection, meta-awareness and instruction bias). Twenty-seven younger and 27 older adults performed a low-demand vigilance task including word-cues and were periodically stopped to describe their thoughts. The vigilance task was divided into two parts and, between them, participants performed a future-oriented goal-related priming task. An additional group of 27 younger participants performed the same procedure with a control task based on word counting. We found a significant increase in SFTs after priming in both age groups, but not in the control group, indicating that the priming manipulation was effective. This result suggests that age-related changes in personal goals do not disrupt the relation between personal goals and SFT frequency. The similar pattern of overall spontaneous thought in both age groups is also discussed considering methodological factors.

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