Episodic future thinking refers to mentally traveling forward in time to preexperience an event, and emerging research suggests that this is more difficult for older adults. The current study was designed to better understand the effect of aging on separate component processes of age differences in episodic future thinking. Young (n = 24) and older (n = 25) adults were asked to construct a) atemporal scenarios, b) future scenarios, and c) a narrative that involved navigation. Each of these conditions assesses the capacity to construct and describe a scene, but only the future scenario requires a subjective sense of self in time (autonoetic consciousness). The composite measure of performance showed that relative to young adults, older adults have substantially reduced capacity for all three types of construction, suggesting that age-related difficulty imagining future episodic events may reflect a more general cognitive decline with age. In addition, older adults were worse at imagining future experiences than atemporal experiences, indicating limited capacity for autonoetic consciousness. Further, this difference between imagining atemporal and future experiences was not as evident among younger adults. These deficits in episodic future thinking have implications for the daily lives of older adults in terms of anticipating and planning for the future.
Rendell, P. G., Gaskin, S., Bailey, P. E., Henry, J. D., Phillips, L. H., & Kliegel, M. (2012). Older adults have greater difficulty imagining future rather than atemporal experiences. Psychology and Aging, 27(4), 1089-1098. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029748