It takes me back: The mnemonic time-travel effect

Cognition. 2019 Jan:182:242-250. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2018.10.007. Epub 2018 Oct 24.


Given the links between motion and temporal thinking, it is surprising that no studies have examined the possibility that transporting participants back mentally towards the time of encoding could improve memory. Six experiments investigated whether backward motion would promote recall relative to forward motion or no-motion conditions. Participants saw a video of a staged crime (Experiments 1, 3 and 5), a word list (Experiments 2 and 4) or a set of pictures (Experiment 6). Then, they walked forward or backwards (Experiments 1 and 2), watched a forward- or backward-directed optic flow-inducing video (Experiments 3 and 4) or imagined walking forward or backwards (Experiments 5 and 6). Finally, they answered questions about the video or recalled words or pictures. The results demonstrated for the first time that motion-induced past-directed mental time travel improved mnemonic performance for different types of information. We briefly discuss theoretical and practical implications of this "mnemonic time-travel effect".

Keywords: Context reinstatement; Episodic memory; Eyewitness memory; Mental time line; Mental time travel.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Motion Pictures
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Reading
  • Time Factors
  • Walking / physiology
  • Young Adult