Discrete Emotions Caused by Episodic Future Thinking: A Systematic Review With Narrative Synthesis
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionCollabra: Psychology. 2022, 8 (1), 35232. 10.1525/collabra.35232
Engaging in episodic future thinking, where a person imagines a specific, personal future, influences decisions partly through evoking affective experiences. While there is a growing literature on how future thinking influences affect, few studies have assessed this effect on discrete emotions. In this systematic review, we examined studies assessing the effects of episodic future thinking on discrete emotions. The aim was to provide an overview of which emotions have been studied, the evidence for an effect of future thinking on emotions, and the characteristics of emotional, episodic future thoughts. We identified 12 experimental studies (N = 2825) and synthesized these narratively. Findings suggest that episodic future thinking has some influence on several different emotions, including happiness, anxiety, and sadness. While the effects for most emotions were inconsistent, consistent effects were found for enjoyment and compassion. Imagining positive, personal future events can evoke enjoyment. Similarly, imagining instances of helping others in the future can elicit compassion. We suggest possible explanations for why future thinking only consistently influences some discrete emotions, emphasizing the cognitive appraisals and behavioral functions associated with different discrete emotions. We provide suggestions for empirically assessing effects of episodic future thinking on discrete emotions in future research.