Macquarie University
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Autobiographical thinking: processes of thinking about personal past and future events

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posted on 2022-03-28, 03:01 authored by Aline Cordonnier
Autobiographical thinking is the capacity to remember past events, but also to simulate, imagine and plan hypothetical events that could have happened in one's past or that could occur in one's future. In this thesis, I examine a broad range of autobiographical thinking processes in both theoretical and empirical ways. In my theoretical chapter, I present an integrated cognitive framework for understanding processes of autobiographical thinking. This cognitive framework maps the domain of what I term "autobiographical thinking" and sets the scene for the following empirical chapters. Then, across four empirical papers, I investigate many ways of thinking about personal past and future events. In my experiments, I asked participants to remember personal memories, but also to simulate how else they could have happened. I asked them to imagine and plan future events, and to think about alternative versions of how they could occur. I investigate these various processes of thinking autobiographically, their raw materials and their products across four main levels of analyses. The first level of analysis examines the content of autobiographical thinking, and more precisely the role of scripts in past and future planning. The second level of analysis examines the phenomenology of autobiographical events. The third level of analysis examines the linguistic style used to describe narratives of autobiographical events. And the fourth level of analysis examines the perceived plausibility of past and future hypothetical events. Overall, I aim to acquire a more comprehensive understanding of how autobiographical events are constructed, perceived, and described. I also consider to what extent the different autobiographical processes differ. My research offers new theory, methods, and data to advance the discussion of autobiographical past and future thinking.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction : From mental time travel to autobiographical thinking -- Chapter 2. Autobiographical thinking : an integrated cognitive framework -- Chapter 3. Scripts and information units in future planning : interactions between a past and a future planning task -- Chapter 4. Phenomenology in autobiographical thinking -- Chapter 5. Linguistic style of narratives in autobiographical thinking -- Chapter 6. Perceived plausibility in hypothetical simulations of future and counterfactual events -- Chapter 7. General discussion : from autobiographical thinking to the future.


Bibliography: pages 352-362 Empirical thesis. "Department of Cognitive Science and Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia" -- title page.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Cognitive Science

Department, Centre or School

Department of Cognitive Science

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Amanda Jane Barnier

Additional Supervisor 1

John Sutton


Copyright Aline Cordonnier 2016. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (viii, 362, 15 pages)

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