Memory and the Future

If you think memory is all about what went on in the past, you’ll be surprised by research findings from Harvard University and University College London that link memory and the future. Research is still ongoing in order to discover connections between memory and future predictability of creativity, imagination, planning, and socialization.

Memory and the Future

It appears that a good memory may be a future predictor of how well you interact socially, as well your ability to be creative and imaginative.
photo: kozzi.com

What the scientists showed could have implications not just for those who suffer memory loss, like the elderly, but young adults and their ability to plan and socialize. The researchers are also following up what they’ve found by trying to see whether the ability to recall past events may be related to creativity and imagination.

The body of work is “broadening out our view of how we use memory,” says Daniel Schacter, a psychology professor at Harvard.

This ability to imagine or anticipate what may come is important to our ability to plan and problem-solve and helps us make better decisions in social situations. The researchers also hope to uncover new ways of improving human memory.

“Using past experiences to anticipate possible future happenings” lets people weigh approaches to a coming situation without needing to try out the actual behaviors, Dr. Schacter says.

Scientists have conducted many studies in the lab since showing that young, healthy adults are much better at imagining future scenarios than older people whose memories have deteriorated. Schizophrenics, who are known to have problems with memory recall, also have trouble imagining the future.

In the studies by Dr. Schacter and his colleagues, when subjects in their early-to-mid 70s were asked about past experiences or future ones, they tended to provide fewer details about people and exactly what happened. Instead, they provided more commentary and reflection, Dr. Schacter says.

For instance, when young people were asked about a shopping trip, they would say who was there and what the store looked like. Older people would say they were interested in buying a vase and why vases are nice to have in the house.

Brain-imaging studies have demonstrated that when people are asked to imagine the future as they recall past experiences, many of the same regions of the brain—the hippocampus and the medial prefrontal cortex—show increased activity. These are also the regions that tend to show changes in aging.

Here is the entire article from the Wall Street Journal.

No doubt the ability to imagine the future (based on memory of the past) is especially important in business. Imagine the implications for customer interactions, product and service development, innovation, co-worker collaboration, and more. Have you noticed any connections between your memory and the future as it has unfolded for you?

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