Future plans may rely on memories: U.S. study

Daydreaming about the future is linked to the ability to visualize the past, which may help explain why amnesia sufferers have difficulty planning ahead, scientists said in a paper released Monday.

Daydreaming about the future is linked toa person'sability to visualize the past, a finding that may help explain why amnesia sufferers have difficulty planning ahead, scientists said in a paper released Monday.

U.S. researchers monitored the brain activity of students who were asked to recollect memories and imagine future scenarios, and found the two tasks sparked similar patterns of activity in the same regions of the brain.

Karl Szpunar, a doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis and lead author of the study, said the results suggest past memories may be essential for daydreaming.

"Our findings provide compelling support for the idea that memory and future thought are highly interrelated, and help explain why future thought may be impossible without memories," Szpunar said in a release after the findings were published in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The similarity in the patterns of activity suggest our imagined future is pieced together from visual and spatial information carried over from past experiences, including our memory of specific body movements and visual perspective changes.

So a person imagining a future in which they relax on the beach would have to be able to recall a memory of what a beach looks like, and what it feels like to lie on the ground.

The findings suggest visualization may be a prerequisite for high-level planning and may also help explain why people suffering from memory loss have difficulties planning for their future.

Some studies have confined the thought processes involved in future planning to the frontal cortex of the brain, where operations such as anticipation, planning and monitoring are carried out.

But the authors of the study suggest the much broader neural network of the brain required for visualization may also be necessary.

Szpunar co-authored the study with Jason M. Watson, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah, and Kathleen McDermott, an associate professor in the School of Medicine at Washington University.