A Project of the University of Pennsylvania and the John Templeton Foundation

Depression and prospection

Published: June, 2015

Researcher(s): Roepke, A. M., & Seligman, M. E. P.



Prospection, the mental representation of possible futures, is usually adaptive. When it goes awry, however, it disrupts emotion and motivation. A negative view of the future is typically seen as one symptom of depression, but we suggest that such negative prospection is the core causal element of depression. Here, we describe the empirical evidence supporting this framework, and we explore the implications for clinical interventions.


We integrate several literatures: Using the database PsycInfo, we retrieved empirical studies with the keywords prospection, prediction, expectation, pessimism, mental simulation, future-thinking, future-directed thinking, foresight, and/or mental time travel, in conjunction with depression, depressed, or depressive.


Three kinds of faulty prospection, taken together, could drive depression: Poor generation of possible futures, poor evaluation of possible futures, and negative beliefs about the future. Depressed mood and poor functioning, in turn, may maintain faulty prospection and feed a vicious cycle. Future-oriented treatment strategies drawn from cognitive-behavioural therapy help to fix poor prospection, and they deserve to be developed further.


Prospection-based techniques may lead to transdiagnostic treatment strategies for depression and other disorders.

JTF grant funded: Yes