Future Fears. Don’t we all have them? The majority of humans know what it is like to be spiraling in panic or to have reoccurring negative images of a future that appears to be doomed. Indeed, it seems that not only the past troubles us, but fears about the future can also cause just as much turmoil to the human mind. Whether it is the frightening thought of losing a loved person or a traumatic event we fear to experience again. These images can be persistent and intrusive, and we cannot help but dwell on negativity. Or can we? That is exactly what our research aimed to investigate. What factors play a role when it comes to this vivid imagination of future horror?
The manipulation of thoughts can be achieved through intentional memory control. We told our participants to actively imagine (Imagine) future fears or actively suppress the imagination (No-imagine). We hypothesized that active retrieval leads to memory enhancement, whereas active suppression impairs memory and leads to forgetting as well as the reduced emotional impact of negativity. Executive functions are control functions in our brain that inhibit the response to certain stimuli, which makes it an entity worth investigating in relation to intrusive future fears. An important component of this function is our working memory capacity, the system that is responsible for the manipulation and maintenance of information. To test how we differ in this capacity, we used the backward digit span task and hypothesized that a larger working memory capacity correlates with a better ability to “forget” negativity. If that is the case, this study yields significant results in regard to future research further exploring various possibilities of manipulating and enhancing our working memory.
So, can we train ourselves to get rid of our future demons?
Research Practical Group 11, Maastricht University
Tutor/ Researcher: Stephanie Ashton