Episodic memory and episodic future thinking in adults with autism

J Abnorm Psychol. 2010 Nov;119(4):896-905. doi: 10.1037/a0020631.


The ability to remember past experiences (episodic memory) is thought to be related to the ability to imagine possible future experiences (episodic future thinking). Although previous research has established that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have diminished episodic memory, episodic future thinking has not previously been investigated within this population. In the present study, high-functioning adults with ASD were compared to closely matched typical adults on a task requiring participants to report a series of events that happened to them in the past and a series of events that might happen to them in the future. For each event described, participants completed two modified Memory Characteristics Questionnaire items to assess self-reported phenomenal qualities associated with remembering and imagining, including self-perspective and degree of autonoetic awareness. Participants also completed letter, category, and ideational fluency tasks. Results indicated that participants with ASD recalled/imagined significantly fewer specific events than did comparison participants and that participants with ASD demonstrated impaired episodic memory and episodic future thinking. In line with this finding, participants with ASD were less likely than comparison participants to report taking a field (first-person) perspective and were more likely to report taking an observer (third-person) perspective during retrieval of past events (but not during simulation of future events), highlighting that they were less likely to mentally reexperience past events from their own point of view. There were no group differences in self-reported levels of autonoetic awareness or fluency task performance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thinking / physiology*