UBC Theses and Dissertations
The role of mental imagery in spontaneous thoughts of the past and future Yvette Monique, Graveline
Spontaneous thought refers to a mental state, or series of mental states, that are unconstrained by a specific task and move freely over time. Converging evidence suggests that spontaneous thoughts may contain mental imagery of scenes ('scene construction') when remembering the past and imagining the future ('mental time travel'). However, no research has directly examined the relationship between scene construction and mental time travel during spontaneous thought. We used experience sampling and multi-level modeling to obtain subjective reports from eighty participants during waking rest, and examined these reports along three dimensions: (1) freedom of movement (referring to the degree to which thoughts are deliberate or spontaneous), (2) mental imagery (including scene construction, inner speech, and isolated elements), and (3) temporal orientation (towards the past, present, and future). Our results showed that multiple types of mental imagery, including scene construction, inner speech, and isolated elements, were positively associated with spontaneous thoughts generated during waking rest. Furthermore, all forms of mental imagery were positively associated with past and future orientation. In contrast, deliberate thoughts generated during waking rest were negatively associated with mental imagery and present orientation. These data suggest that various forms of mental imagery, including scene construction, inner speech, and isolated elements, all support spontaneous thoughts of the past and future. This research advances our understanding of healthy, adaptive human thought patterns in everyday life, and provides a baseline for better understanding unhealthy, maladaptive thought patterns in clinical contexts.
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