Apparent motion steers the wandering mind

Daydreaming is a critical component of conscious experience. The mind can perform mental time travel – it occasionally strays from the present moment, to recollect an experience from the near or distant past, or to imagine an event that has not yet taken place. We know that thinking about the future is dependant on memory, because patients with amnesia cannot imagine new experiences. It involves piecing together fragments of past experiences to generate a plausible simulation of what might happen. This may have been an important development in human evolution, as it enables us anticipate a likely outcome and to plan the best possible course of action.

Space and time are intimately linked in the mind, and this is reflected in our metaphors. We often say that we are thinking back to a past event, or looking forward to one that will take place in the future. But the mind and body are also closely linked: think about a past experience, and you might find yourself moving backwards. A new study suggests that this can be reversed, by showing that apparent motion can influence the direction of the mind’s wanderings. Thus, moving backwards could evoke long lost memories, while moving forward might make you think about the future.

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The cognitive benefits of time-space synaesthesia

SYNAESTHESIA is a neurological condition in which there is a merging of the senses, so that activity in one sensory modality elicits sensations in another. Although first described by Francis Galton in the 1880s, little was known about this condition until recently. A rennaissance in synaesthesia research began about a decade ago; since then, three previously unrecognized forms of the condition have been described, and hypotheses for how it arises have been put forward.

Two new studies now provide some insight into time-space synaesthesia, the least researched of all the forms of this fascinating condition. One is a case study of an individual whose time-space synaesthesia has an apparently unique characteristic. The second demonstrates that time-space synaesthetes are superior to non-synaesthetes in some cognitive abilities, and suggests that time-space synaesthesia may underly the savant-like abilities of people with hyperthymestic (or “super-memory”) syndrome.

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