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date: 10 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Mental simulation refers to the imagination of alternative, counterfactual realities. This chapter provides an overview of research on simulations of the past—retrospective simulation—and simulations of the future—prospective simulation. Two major themes run throughout. The first is that both retrospective and prospective thinking are inextricably linked, relying on a mixture of episodic and semantic memories that share common neural substrates. The second is that retrospective and prospective simulation present trade-offs for the individual. On the one hand, they are functional, identifying causal inferences and potential obstacles that prepare us to try harder and perform better in the future. On the other hand, they sometimes produce bias—retrospective thinking can enhance hindsight bias, whereas prospective thinking can evoke biased predictions about the likelihood of certain events as well how one is going to feel about those events in the future. Fortunately, however, these biases can be diminished with debiasing techniques.

Keywords: mental simulation, counterfactual, predictions, bias, debiasing, past, future, memories, functional

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