Pragmatic prospection: how and why people think about the future

Baumeister, Roy F., Vohs, Kathleen D. and Oettingen, Gabriele (2016) Pragmatic prospection: how and why people think about the future. Review of General Psychology, 20 1: 3-16. doi:10.1037/gpr0000060

Author Baumeister, Roy F.
Vohs, Kathleen D.
Oettingen, Gabriele
Title Pragmatic prospection: how and why people think about the future
Journal name Review of General Psychology   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1089-2680
Publication date 2016-03-01
Year available 2016
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1037/gpr0000060
Open Access Status Not yet assessed
Volume 20
Issue 1
Start page 3
End page 16
Total pages 14
Place of publication Washington, DC, United States
Publisher American Psychological Association
Language eng
Abstract In the present, the past is more knowable than the future—but people think far more about the future than the past. Both facts derive from the principle that the future can be changed whereas the past cannot. Our theory of pragmatic prospection holds that people think about the future so as to guide actions to bring about desirable outcomes. It proposes that thoughts about the future begin by imagining what one wants to happen, which is thus initially optimistic. A second stage of such prospective thinking maps out how to bring that about, and this stage is marked by consideration of obstacles, requisite steps, and other potential problems, and so it tends toward cautious realism and even pessimism. Pragmatic prospection presents a form of teleology, in which brains can anticipate possible future events and use those cognitions to guide behavior. Toward that end, it invokes meaning, consistent with evidence that thinking about the future is highly meaningful. Prospection often has narrative structure, involving a series of events in a temporal sequence linked together by meaning. Emotion is useful for evaluating different simulations of possible future events and plans. Prospection is socially learned and rests on socially constructed scaffolding for the future (e.g., future dates). Planning is perhaps the most common form of prospection, and it exemplifies all aspects of our theory (including pragmatic utility, meaning, teleological and narrative structure, and sociality). Bracing for bad news and defensive pessimism are strategies that inspire adaptive responses to feared outcomes.
Keyword Future
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status Non-UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
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School of Psychology Publications
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