When children imagine their future selves as astronauts, politicians, or superheroes they are using episodic memory. Episodic memory allows individuals to project themselves both backward and forward in subjective time.
Creating an imaginary event, known as constructive-episodic-simulation, requires an individual to recall details of a previous experience and to put them together to create the imaginary event.
Harvard psychologists Donna Rose Addis, Alana Wong, and Daniel Schacter interviewed both young and older participants and asked them describe a past or future scenario to given cue words. The researchers found that the older adults had significant reduction in the use of internal episodic details to describe both past memories and imagined future events. Researchers suspect that there is a link between age related memory deficits and future planning in older adults indicated by the decline in the ability of constructive-episodic-simulation.
The full article appears in the January, 2008 issue of Psychological Science.