Reports on differences between remembering the past and imagining the future have led to the hypothesis that constructing future events is a more cognitively demanding process. However, factors that influence these increased demands, such as whether the event has been previously constructed and the types of details comprising the event, have remained relatively unexplored. Across two experiments, we examined how these factors influence the process of constructing event representations by having participants repeatedly construct events and measuring how construction times and a range of phenomenological ratings changed across time points. In Experiment 1, we contrasted the construction of past and future events and found that, relative to past events, the constructive demands associated with future events are particularly heightened when these events are imagined for the first time. Across repeated simulations, future events became increasingly similar to past events in terms of construction times and incorporated detail. In Experiment 2, participants imagined future events involving two memory details (person, location) and then reimagined the event either i) exactly the same, ii) with a different person, or iii) in a different location. We predicted that if generating spatial information is particularly important for event construction, a change in location will have the greatest impact on constructive demands. Results showed that spatial context contributed to these heightened constructive demands more so than person details, consistent with theories highlighting the central role of spatial processing in episodic simulation. We discuss the findings from both studies in the light of relational processing demands and consider implications for current theoretical frameworks.
All scripts and data to reproduce all analyses and figures from the paper can be found under Scripts and Scripts/data.
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