Humans have the unique capacity to mentally travel through time, that is, to reflect on the past, anticipate the future, and construct alternate realities in their minds. The ability to mentally travel through time affects a variety of social psychological topics. Representations of events can differ considerably, depending on the event's temporal location and distance from the present. Current emotions may be influenced by thoughts of future and past times (e.g., nostalgia, hope). Judgments about future events and actions are an important aspect of everyday functioning (e.g., predictions). Indeed, hypothetical thought about counterfactual events that might never come to pass may change the perception and evaluation of present reality. Despite this varied and extensive influence of time on affect, judgment, perception, and behavior, these diverse topics have not been brought together under one common roof. In this overview article and in the special issue on Mental Time Travel, we aim to identify key themes of mental time travel research, point to communalities and differences, and help to integrate various aspects of mental time travel research. Future directions regarding open questions, need for theoretical integration, and further empirical research are discussed.

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Journal European Journal of Social Psychology
Epstude, K. (Kai), & Peetz, J. (2012). Mental time travel: A conceptual overview of social psychological perspectives on a fundamental human capacity. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42(3), 269–275. doi:10.1002/ejsp.1867