The Role of Episodic Specificity in Future Thinking and Emotion Regulation in Young and Older Adults
CitationJing, Helen G. 2019. The Role of Episodic Specificity in Future Thinking and Emotion Regulation in Young and Older Adults. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractMuch research in the past decade has highlighted the importance of episodic simulation, the construction of a detailed representation of a possible personal future experience. Episodic simulation can be highly adaptive because it allows people to imagine different ways in which the future might play out without having to engage in actual behavior, which is beneficial across a variety of contexts, including problem solving and emotion regulation. The current dissertation aims to examine not only the mechanisms that support various types of episodic future simulation, but also the functions that future thinking may serve. Paper 1 (Jing, Madore, & Schacter, 2016) examines the impact of an episodic specificity induction (ESI), a brief training in recollecting details of a recent experience, on two positive simulation tasks: means-end problem solving (MEPS) and episodic reappraisal. We demonstrate that the ESI, relative to a control condition, boosts the steps and details people generate to solve or reframe a series of personally worrisome future problems. Further, this boost in details was linked to subsequent improvements in emotional well-being towards the target events. Paper 2 (Jing, Madore, & Schacter, 2017) also aims to investigate the impact of the ESI on emotional well-being using a novel alternative event generation task in young adults. Results show that the ESI increased the number of alternative positive outcomes that participants generated to a series of anticipated negative events, and that the boost in alternative outcomes was related to subsequent decreases in the perceived plausibility and negativity of the original events. Paper 3 (Jing, Madore, & Schacter, 2019) examined the effect of detailed problem solving on subsequent emotion regulation in older adults in two ways. Experiment 1 contrasted problem-solving performance after administering the ESI relative to a control induction, and found that while the ESI boosted performance on a MEPS task, there were no observed differences in emotion regulation between the two induction conditions. In Experiment 2, we contrasted performance on a personal problem-solving task intended to draw on episodic retrieval with a novel advice task focused on semantic processing. Participants provided more concrete steps and details in the personal problem-solving task relative to the advice task, and boosts in detail were related to larger improvements in emotion regulation. The results of these papers support the idea that imagining constructive behaviors regarding worrisome events may be related to improved emotional well-being.
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