Constructing autobiographical events within a spatial or temporal context: a comparison of two targeted episodic induction techniques

Published Date: 
August 27, 2019

Sheldon S, Gurguryan L, Madore KP, Schacter DL.

Recalling and imagining autobiographical experiences involves constructing event representations within spatiotemporal contexts. We tested whether generating autobiographical events within a primarily spatial (where the event occurred) or temporal (the sequence of actions that occurred) context affected how the associated mental representation was constructed. We leveraged the well-validated episodic specificity induction (ESI) technique, known to influence the use of episodic processes on subsequent tasks, to develop variants that selectively enhance spatial or temporal processing. We tested the effects of these inductions on the details used to describe past and future autobiographical events. We first replicated the standard ESI effect, showing that ESI enhances generating episodic details, particularly those that are perception-based, when describing autobiographical events (Experiment 1). We then directly compared the effects of the spatial and temporal inductions (Experiment 2 and 3). When describing autobiographical events, spatial induction enhanced generating episodic details, specifically perception-based details, compared to the control or temporal inductions. A greater proportion of the episodic details generated after the temporal induction were gist-based than after the spatial induction, but this proportion did not differ from a control induction. Thus, using a spatial or temporal framework for autobiographical event generation alters the associated details that are accessed.