Mental Time Travel as Self-Affirmation

Elena Stephan, Constantine Sedikides

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Academic Abstract: This article integrates and advances the scope of research on the role of mental time travel in bolstering the self. We propose that imagining the self in the future (prospection) or in the past (retrospection) highlights central and positive self-aspects. Thus, bringing to mind one’s future or past broadens the perceived bases of self-integrity and offers a route to self-affirmation. In reviewing corresponding research programs on self-prospection and nostalgia, we illustrate that mental time travel serves to affirm the self in terms of self-esteem, coherence, and control. Mental time travel could be implemented as a source of self-affirmation for facilitating coping and behavior change in several domains such as relationships, health, education, and organizational contexts. Public Abstract: People can mentally travel to their future or to their past. When people imagine what they will be like in the future, or what they were like in the past, they tend to think about themselves in terms of the important and positive attributes that they possess. Thinking about themselves in such an affirming way expands and consolidates their self-views. This broader image of themselves can increase self-esteem (the extent to which one likes who they are), coherence (the extent to which one perceives life as meaningful), and control (the extent to which one feels capable of initiating and pursuing goals or effecting desirable outcomes). Mental time travel, then, has favorable or affirming consequences for one’s self-views. These consequences can be harnessed to modify one’s behavior in such life domains as relationships, health, education, and work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-208
Number of pages28
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Review
Issue number2
Early online date24 Oct 2023
StatePublished - May 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.


The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was partly supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant No. 1228/19) to the first author.

FundersFunder number
Israel Science Foundation1228/19


    • mental time travel
    • nostalgia
    • prospection
    • retrospection
    • self-affirmation
    • self-prospection


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