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A role for affect in the link between episodic simulation and prosociality

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Prospection and prosociality are hallmarks of our species. Little is known, however, about how our ability to imagine or simulate specific future events contributes to our capacity for prosociality. Here, we investigated this relationship, revealing how the affective response that arises from a simulated prosocial event motivates a willingness to help a person in need. Across two experiments, people reported being more willing to help in specific situations after simulating future helping events that elicited positive (versus negative or neutral) affect. Positive affect increased engagement of theory of mind for the person in need, which in turn informed prosocial responses. Moreover, the subjective experience of scene imagery and theory of mind systematically couple together depending on the affective valence of future simulations, providing new insight into how affective valence guides a prosocial function of episodic simulation.
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Keywords: Episodic memory; emotion; episodic future thinking; morality; theory of mind

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, NY, USA

Publication date: September 14, 2017

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