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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Does metarepresentation make human mental time travel unique?

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Recent neurological evidence suggests that rats can mentally represent novel spatial trajectories and then are more likely to follow these paths in the future. Consequently, it has been proposed that human and nonhuman mental time travel capacities may differ in degree rather than kind. As of yet, however, there is no evidence for the crucial and qualitatively distinct component of metarepresentation in any nonhuman animal, not even our closest great ape relatives. Metarepresentation allows humans to represent the relationship between current reality and mere representations of reality—including those of the future. Drawing on parallels with dreaming and mind‐wandering, I outline the future‐oriented benefits associated with uncontextualized (non‐metarepresentational) representations of past and novel events, but propose that further, immense benefits flowed from the addition of metarepresentational insight. I critique previous behavioral paradigms used to assess mental time travel in animals and suggest how future‐oriented metarepresentation might possibly be demonstrated nonverbally. WIREs Cogn Sci 2014, 5:519–531. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1308 This article is categorized under: Cognitive Biology > Evolutionary Roots of Cognition Psychology > Comparative Psychology Psychology > Memory
Illustration of four instantiations of metarepresentation. A mind can represent an alternative version of reality (e.g., a dream, a past event, a novel event, or the content of another mind) without metarepresentational insight, which requires an additional, overarching representation of the relationship between that alternative version of reality and current reality. This represented relationship can be discordant (e.g., in lucid dreaming or fiction), post‐occurrent (e.g., in episodic memory), pre‐occurrent (e.g., in episodic foresight), or regarding the truth value of the alternative representation (e.g., in belief representation).
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An alternative, non‐metarepresentational explanation for an experiment that appears to show great apes acting for a specific future episode in which a novel hose is required to retrieve juice from a box. At Time 1, the ape is aware of the general type of tool that is required to solve the problem (as they have already solved the problem in the previous experiments), but no specific solution is available. At Time 2, the appearance of such a tool cues the ape to an uncontextualized representation of how to solve the problem, even though the problem is not currently available. This representation biases the ape toward choosing the appropriate object, albeit without any appreciation of the specific future context in which it can be used. The problem solution at Time 3 is similarly based on an uncontextualized representation of the past choice of the tool, and a desire to solve the problem in the present. (Note: actual items available at Time 2 differed from those depicted here and varied over 12 trials.)
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Psychology > Memory
Psychology > Comparative Psychology
Cognitive Biology > Evolutionary Roots of Cognition

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