A developmental approach to the study of Mental Time Travel and counterfactual thinking—what is the link?

   Faculty of Natural Sciences

About the Project

Applications are invited for a self-funded PhD project to investigate the relation between Mental Time Travel and counterfactual thought. The supervisors will be Dr Gema Martin-Ordas and Dr Eva Rafetseder (University of Stirling). Mental time travel (MTT)—the ability to mentally travel backwards and forwards in time to remember past events or imagine future ones (Suddenforf & Corballis, 2007) —and counterfactual thinking—the ability to imagine episodes that could have happened in one’s past or that could happen in one’s future (Beck, Robinson, Carroll, & Apperly, 2006) —are critical milestones in children’s development. Despite differences in terminology, MTT and counterfactual thinking focus on conceptually overlapping capacities (e.g., understanding of “possibility”). However, the extent to which both abilities are related has not received much attention in the developmental arena. This PhD will investigate this issue by conducting a series of behavioural experiments with children 4 to 6 years of age on the relation between MTT and counterfactual thinking. The results of this research will shed light on whether and how counterfactual thinking is linked to episodic memory and future thinking. Thus, the findings will provide crucial insights for theories of cognitive development—in particular, of our understanding of possibilities.

Application Requirements:
Eligible applicants should –
• Hold a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Philosophy and related fields. A relevant MSc qualification is desirable. We are open to applicants from both experimental and theoretical fields.
• Be analytical and comfortable with testing children and programming experiments online.
• Have experience with R for data manipulation and analysis.
• Previous experience with fNRS methodology will be desirable.

Funding Notes

The PhD project is self-funded. Tuition fees are available at:
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Beck, S. R., Robinson, E. J., Carroll, D. J., & Apperly, I. A. (2006). Children’s Thinking about counterfactuals and Future Hypotheticals as Possibilities. Child Development, 77(2), 413-426.

Suddendorf, T., & Corballis, M. C. (2007). The evolution of foresight: What is mental time travel, and is it unique to humans? Behavioural Brain Science 30, 299–312.

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