Disease burden and unsatisfactory treatment outcomes call for innovation in treatments of depression. Prospective mental imagery, i.e. future-directed voluntary imagery-based thought, about potentially-rewarding activities may offer a mechanistically-informed intervention that targets deficits in reward processing, a core clinical feature of depression. We propose that the previously described impact of prospective mental imagery on motivation for everyday activities is facilitated by affective forecasting, i.e. predictions about an individual’s emotional response to the imagined activities.
Participants (N = 120) self-nominated six activities to engage in over the following week and were randomized to either: (1) an affective forecasting imagery condition (n = 40); (2) a neutral process imagery condition (n = 40); or (3) a no-imagery control condition (n = 40).
As predicted, increases in motivation ratings from pre to post experimental manipulation were significantly higher following affective forecasting imagery compared to both neutral process imagery (d = 0.62) and no-imagery (d = 0.91). Contrary to predictions, the number of activities participants engaged in did not differ between conditions.
Results provide initial evidence for a potentially important role of affective forecasting in prospective mental imagery. We discuss how these findings can inform future research aiming to harness prospective mental imagery’s potential for clinical applications.