Research Topic

Future-minded: The role of prospection in Agency, Control, and other goal-directed processes

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Placing the future centre stage is a way of understanding the function of various cognitive processes (memory, learning, attention, judgment and decision-making, perceptual-motor processing). The key unifying claim is that prospection, which is the process of representing and thinking about possible future ...

Placing the future centre stage is a way of understanding the function of various cognitive processes (memory, learning, attention, judgment and decision-making, perceptual-motor processing). The key unifying claim is that prospection, which is the process of representing and thinking about possible future states of the world, is a necessary part of our cognition which helps us to anticipate, adapt to, and control what is yet to come. This concept is also referred to as mental-time travel, simulation, foresight, and goal-directedness. This theoretical framework is gaining in interest in cognitive science, particularly in understanding agency and control, because both these processes are characteristically goal-directed, and goals are essentially ways of anchoring the future.

The development of this framework can be traced back to work on the psychology of foresight in the 60s and 70s (i.e. comparing hindsight with foresight judgments under uncertainty). Though arguably cyberneticists might claim that prospection has its origins in work in the 40s, which described systems (e.g., ecologies, societies, economies, industrial power plants, banking systems, transport networks) as self-regulating according to feed-forward loops as well as feedback loops.

While Prospection as a theoretical framework has been steadily gaining momentum for some time, it has recently come to the fore as a result of sparking several debates regarding questions: 1) Is prospection a uniquely human capacity, or do animals also possess this capacity? 2) Does prospection require conscious processing? 3) Is episodic memory essential for prospective processing? The aim of this Research Topic is to bring together research that is focused on understanding prospection and how it underpins our cognition. Submissions are welcomed that focus on addressing any of the three aforementioned questions. As well as this, the objective of the Research Topic is to also bring together work that investigates the role of prospection in agency and control (including Self-Control, Cognitive Control, Dynamic Control).


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