Everyday Thoughts in Time: Experience Sampling Studies of Mental Time Travel

Roy F. Baumeister, Wilhelm Hofmann, Amy Summerville, Philip T. Reiss, Kathleen D. Vohs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Time is among the most important yet mysterious aspects of experience. We investigated everyday mental time travel, especially into the future. Two community samples, contacted at random points for 3 (Study 1; 6,686 reports) and 14 days (Study 2; 2,361 reports), reported on their most recent thought. Both studies found that thoughts about the present were frequent, thoughts about the future also were common, whereas thoughts about the past were rare. Thoughts about the present were on average highly happy and pleasant but low in meaningfulness. Pragmatic prospection (thoughts preparing for action) was evident in thoughts about planning and goals. Thoughts with no time aspect were lower in sociality and experiential richness. Thoughts about the past were relatively unpleasant and involuntary. Subjective experiences of thinking about past and future often were similar—while both differed from present focus, consistent with views that memory and prospection use similar mental structures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1631-1648
Number of pages18
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.


  • future
  • prospection
  • social cognition
  • time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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