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Self-enhancement and the life script in future thinking across the lifespan

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Studies comparing memory and future event simulation find that future events are more positive, and more often depend on life script events (e.g., culturally normative landmark events) than past events. Previous research does not address the link between this positivity bias and the life stage of college-age participants or their reliance on these scripted events. To examine this positivity bias, narratives of past and anticipated future events were elicited from participants aged 18–74 years, and were examined for reliance on the life script and valence ratings. Results showed that, across age groups, future events were rated as more positive than past events, and that life script events were common in the distant future. Notably, whereas younger adult age groups wrote primarily about their own life script events, older participants more commonly wrote about attending the life script events of significant others, such as children and grandchildren. These findings suggest that simulated future events play a valuable role in self-enhancement across the lifespan. Furthermore, the life script can be viewed as a useful search mechanism when one is missing the episodic details that are more available in memories; however, it is not the source of positivity bias for future events.
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Keywords: Autobiographical memory; Episodic future simulation; Life script; Self-enhancement

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, USA 2: Department of Psychology, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ, USA

Publication date: July 4, 2015

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