MOVING THROUGH TIME

Chronesthesia is the process that refers to our ability to travel through time mentally. Different aspects and impacts of this very process have been researched, such as its links to aging and mental illness. However, there are still a few questions unanswered as little is known about information processing during retrospection and anticipation. Mental time travel might be represented in the sensorimotor systems integrating both temporal and spatial information in a directional manner. In other words, past would equal moving backward and future would equal moving forward.

Hypothesis
As chronesthesia entails thought and action, retrospection is accompanied by backward motion and prospection by forward motion.

Method
The sample consisted of 20 participants (18-24 years, 11 female, 9 male). Participants were fitted with a movement sensor and were asked to wear a blindfold in order to enhance vivid imagery and postural sway. They were instructed to comfortably stand on a specific spot and to follow one of the two imagery instructions: 1) to recall and envisage everyday life circumstances four years before and the events of a typical day at that time, or 2) to imagine and envisage everyday life circumstances and events as well as a typcial day in four years. Movement in the anterior-posterior plane was measured and recorded; data were collected after participants had rated the valence of their retrospective and prospective thoughts.

Results
Participants who thought about the past moved backward (b = -.08) while those who thought about the future moved forward (b = .14) (negative scores indicate movement in a posterior direction, positive scores in an anterior direction). In addition, an effect of condition was found which was qualified by an interaction between time and condition. When considering the time from second one to second 15 (1 – 15 s) results showed that conditions at 13 s, 14 s, and 15 s differed.

Discussion and Outlook 
The engagement in retrospective and prospective thoughts, an invisible mental operation, yields a visible behavioural marker, that is backward and forward movement. Hence, chronesthesia seems to be grounded in the perception-action systems which support social-cognitive functioning.
Future research might focus on these effects at more precise temporal and phenomenological scales.  For instance, this study did neither investigate the modulation of postural sway by temporal distance (e.g. close events leading to less sway than distant events) nor examine the effects of a variation of the sequential order or evocativeness of chronesthetic episodes on movement.

Miles, L. K., Nind, L. K. & Macrae, C. N. (2010) Moving Through Time. Psychological Science, 21(2), 222-223; photo: http://goo.gl/YacD0c
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