Not my future? Core values and the neural representation of future events

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2018 Jun;18(3):476-484. doi: 10.3758/s13415-018-0581-9.


Individuals with pronounced self-transcendence values have been shown to put greater weight on the long-term consequences of their actions when making decisions. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we investigated the neural mechanisms underlying the evaluation of events occurring several decades in the future as well as the role of core values in these processes. Thirty-six participants viewed a series of events, consisting of potential consequences of climate change, which could occur in the near future (around 2030), and thus would be experienced by the participants themselves, or in the far future (around 2080). We observed increased activation in anterior VMPFC (BA11), a region involved in encoding the personal significance of future events, when participants were envisioning far future events, demonstrating for the first time that the role of the VMPFC in future projection extends to the time scale of decades. Importantly, this activation increase was observed only in participants with pronounced self-transcendence values measured by self-report questionnaire, as shown by a statistically significant interaction of temporal distance and value structure. These findings suggest that future projection mechanisms are modulated by self-transcendence values to allow for a more extensive simulation of far future events. Consistent with this, these participants reported similar concern ratings for near and far future events, whereas participants with pronounced self-enhancement values were more concerned about near future events. Our findings provide a neural substrate for the tendency of individuals with pronounced self-transcendence values to consider the long-term consequences of their actions.

Keywords: Core values; Future projection; Temporal distance; VMPFC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Young Adult