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

When can imagining the self increase willingness to help others? Investigating whether the self-referential nature of episodic simulation fosters prosociality

Published: December, 2015

Journal: Social Cognition

Researcher(s): Gaesser, B., Horn, M., & Young, L.


Episodic simulation, the ability to imagine the self in a specific time and place, can be used to imagine future prosocial events. Recent work on episodic simulation indicates that imagining scenes of helping a person in need increases one’s own intent to help. This work, however, leaves open the question of underlying mechanisms. While research on imagination points to the sensory quality of the imagined event as critical to the effect, research on moral cognition suggests that self-referential processing – imagining oneself verses another person – may be a key feature. Across three experiments, we investigated the role of self-referential processing and sensory quality on enhancing prosocial interventions via episodic simulation. The findings suggest that we are willing to help others, in part, because we can vividly imagine ourselves – or someone else – doing so.

JTF grant funded: Yes