Rewarding one’s Future Self: Psychological Connectedness, Episodic Prospection, and a Puzzle about Perspective

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 11 (2):449-467 (2020)
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Abstract

When faced with intertemporal choices, which have consequences that unfold over time, we often discount the future, preferring smaller immediate rewards often at the expense of long-term benefits. How psychologically connected one feels to one’s future self-influences such temporal discounting. Psychological connectedness consists in sharing psychological properties with past or future selves, but connectedness comes in degrees. If one feels that one is not psychologically connected to one’s future self, one views that self like a different person and is less likely to wait for the future reward. Increasing perceived psychological connectedness to one’s future self may lead to more far-sighted decisions. Episodic prospection may help in this regard. Episodic prospection is our ability to ‘pre-experience’ the future by mentally simulating it, drawing on information from episodic memory and other sources. Episodic memory and prospection are thought to involve a special form of consciousness, which underpins the capacity to appreciate the connection between one’s past, present, and future selves. Simulating the future self through prospection may increase felt psychological connectedness and support future-oriented decision-making. Yet this is where a puzzle arises. The imagery of episodic memory and prospection is perspectival: often one views the visualised scenario from a detached perspective, seeing oneself from-the-outside as if viewing another person. The aim of this paper is to characterise how the perspectival imagery of prospection relates to psychological connectedness, and to show that even though such imagery involves a detached perspective it can still be used to help reward one’s future self.

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Author Profiles

Erica Cosentino
Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Christopher Jude McCarroll
National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University