Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Time perspective and emotion

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Time perspective and emotion:
How does time perspective affect emotion?

Overview[edit | edit source]


"Sometimes I would sleep two hours or eighteen hours, and I couldn’t tell the difference. That is an experience I think we all can appreciate. It’s the problem of psychological time. It’s the problem of humans. What is time? We don’t know."

- Michel Siffre (2008)

What is time perspective?[edit | edit source]

Time perspective refers to ones subjective sense of time and is a field of research in both psychology and neuroscience. Time itself is an immaterial and omnipresent part of everybody's life, and is judged by the individual in terms of their own perspective of the continuous unfolding events that make up life, time perspective taking presidence in our minds just as much as the five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste and sound even though it lacks any kind of specific specialized sensory apparatus (Droit-Volet, Fayolle, & Gil, 2011). Time perspective itself is a phenomenon that although it is possessed by everyone is perceived in a way unique to every individual, with ones unique experience with it being impossible to be directly experienced or fully understood by another individual although it can be measured through a variety of scientific experiments (Droit-Volet & Gil, 2009). Although most people think of time in the 24 hours in a day sense, the human brain often sways and drifts from this outside measured setup of physical events. There are often many differences between perceived time and measured time, as perceived time itself acts upon an illusionary basis and is often distorted by other naturally occurring phenomenon, with time perspective being noted as being particularly easy to manipulate in experimental conditions (Eagleman, 2008).

One clear example of the differences between perceived and measured time can be found in Michel Siffre's two cave isolation experiments where he experienced huge variations between what he perceived in relation to time and what really passed. By the end of the experiments he had adapted huge random variations in his sleep-wake cycles, which ranged between 18 and 52 hours rather then the standard 24 hour cycle of daylight/night. As well as misjudging how long he had been down there by a significant amount, after his first experiment guessing that he had been down there for 34 days when he had been gone for 59 (Halberg et al, 1970).

For something so seemingly important it is surprising how easily time perspective can be is manipulated, with a wide array of different phenomenons having a direct influence on it. Some things that have been proven to affect time perspective are as follows: temperature, age, psychoactive drugs, some medications, schizophrenia, parkinson's, ADHD and emotional states (Stetson, Fiesta & Eagleman, 2007; Wearden & Penton-Voak, 1995; Wittmann, Leland, Churan & Paulus, 2007). There are also a few other recorded effects that can cause time to be misperceived, one recorded effect where this occurs being labeled the oddball effect where unusual memories (often fear or danger related) are remembered as taking or occurring longer then they really did (Eagleman, 2001). Overall though the misperceptions that distorted time perspective take can generally be categorized into two categories: overestimation where time is judged to have moved slower then it really did and underestimated where time is judged to have moved faster then it really did (Gil, Niedenthal & Droit-Volet, 2007).

One other type of distortion that commonly occurs in an individuals sense of time are temporal illusions, which occur when the time gap between two stimuli is very small usually starting at around ~80 msec. This is due to the inability of the brain to properly distinguish between the two events causing them to be perceived as a single stimuli (Stetson, Fiesta & Eagleman, 2007). Distortions due to temporal illusions can be useful though, TV and movies working through this effect to generate the illusion of a moving picture by showing multiple frames per second.

Time perspective over the lifetime[edit | edit source]

Another interesting feature of time perspective is that it changes over an individuals lifespan, usually speeding up as they get older. It has been said that although children live in time; reacting strongly to any perceived fluctuation in their personal schedule they are incapable of measuring time unless distinctly instructed to, while very young children (age 0-4) are usually incapable of properly perceiving and reflecting on the everyday events that make up and individuals perspective of time (Kolb et al, 2012). Once individuals develop enough to make memories though they often report later on that time seems to speed up as they grow older, with those in their later stages of life noting a marked difference between their present and past perspectives of time. There are a number of suggested reasons for this but the most common is probably that as children have experienced far less experiences and as such everyday events tend to be more exciting and arousing for them, making them more memorable which when combined with a child's more immature mental processes cause them to overestimate how much time has passed. An adult doing the same everyday tasks would likely have done them many times before allowing neural adaption to occur, a phenomena that involves the individuals brain sufficiently mapping the procedure to the point that they are able to preform the tasks on autopilot (Eagleman, 2008).

Models of the mechanism and physiology of time perspective[edit | edit source]

In research on time perspective the traditional or classic models of the mechanisms of neural and interval timing have all been variants of a pacemaker-accumulator clock model often based somewhat off and derived from scalar timing theory where an internal oscillator (pacemaker) produces a series of pulses at a given rate like a clock, which are used to internally measure and judge the time a stimulus or event takes (Wittmann, 2009; Gil, Rousset & Droit-Volet, 2009). This model explains time distortions as events that distract the individual or cause the individual to focus more intently on the given stimuli causing the individual to count less or more ticks respectively causing them to incorrectly conclude how long it had been (Eagleman & Pariyadath, 2009). The events that cause the distractions themselves have been suggested to be attributed to attention based and arousal based mechanisms, attention based mechanisms distracting the individual and losing pulses slowing down perceived time and arousal based mechanisms generating extra pulses speeding up time perception (Droit-Volet, Fayolle & Gil, 2011).

However this traditional model is beginning to fall out of favor mainly due to the little support that can be found for it on a physiological basis. One new model that has seen some support is the striatal beat-frequency model of interval timing which measures time using the oscillatory activity of brain cells in the upper cortex the frequency of which is then detected and measured by certain cells in the dorsal striatum (Buhusi & Meck, 2005). Overall though the exact mechanism of time perspective is still fairly poorly understood and requires more research to be done on the subject.

The physiology of time perspective likewise doesn't have a definite answer though a number of regions have been implicated as playing a role in time perspective. The system appears to be fairly highly distributed with the cerebellum, cerebral cortex, basal ganglia, right posterior parietal cortex, right prefrontal cortex as well as the fronto-striatal circuits all being implied to play a role (Onoe et al, 2001; Wittmann, 2009). Biochemically wise acetylcholine and dopamine levels are also strongly suggested to play a role in the accurate functioning of time perception (Meck, 1996).

Types of time perspective: looking at the future and past[edit | edit source]

Through a psychological perspective time perspective is also looked at in terms of types, in a manner somewhat akin to the setup of personality types through a couple of different models. In these models time perspective is seen as the total sum of an individuals view of his psychological future and past at a given moment, in essence being looked at as how one looks upon their own history and what they desire to do (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999). The basic setup of these models is that the time perspective of the individual is looked at as how much one focuses upon the past, present and future and determining from that what kind of time focused perspective they have, and from that a number of personality features that the individual is likely to have including emotionality, decision making skills and patience (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999). This way of modeling an individuals time perspective is fairly new however, only really coming into providence over the past 15 years mainly due to the work of Philip Zimbardo on the subject and his creation of the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI), with the majority of research on the subject being based off of his research or focusing on the benefits of future over past orientated time perspective (D'Alessio, Guarino, De Pascalis & Zimbardo, 2003).

Emotion[edit | edit source]

When it comes down to it time perspective and emotion are actually quite linked, both through emotions effect on time perception as an ongoing input of events and as the types of time perceptions effect on emotionality. In its most basic form emotion is essentially a state of physiological arousal combined with an appropriate cognition, which is usually caused by an individual evaluating an event during which they evaluate if it is worthy of their attention (Noulhiane et al, 2007). As such emotions work upon both the arousal and attention processes that can manipulate an individuals internal sense of time, enabling them to quite strongly act upon ones perspective of time. This has not gone unnoticed by the wider psychological and neurological communities and as such there is a wide array of literature on the subject looking at many different facets of the issue.

Time perspective works upon emotion as well though, with some evidence that people actually find tasks more enjoyable when they realize they have underestimated how much time has passed and seemingly long periods of boredom caused by overestimation sometimes generating negative emotions themselves (Sackett et al, 2010). Perspective types also work upon emotion the same way certain personality types are more prone to certain emotional states and preforming certain behaviors. As such emotion has a lot to do with time perspective through its many facets, providing the strongest and widest branching effects on time perception and being effected by it in return.

Impact of emotions on Time perspective[edit | edit source]

"Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day, fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way." - Pink Floyd (Time, 1973)

Happiness and enjoyable tasks[edit | edit source]

The idea that time speeds up when doing enjoyable tasks is a fairly universal belief, with almost everyone at some point or another finding themselves thinking "that was over too soon" after ending an enjoyable activity way too quickly for their liking. Contrary to popular belief however there is little evidence that positive emotionality causes underestimation of time at all, with findings suggesting that if there is an underestimation effect at all it is either smaller then other emotions or causes a overestimation of time instead (Gil, Rousset & Droit-Volet, 2009; Kellaris & Kent, 1992). One given explanation for this is that although happy emotions do generate arousal, they are more passive then negative emotions and are still prone to attention slipping through distraction. One other explanation for the wide belief that time fly's when your having fun can be found in Sackett et al's (2010) study where individuals under experimental conditions rated boring tasks as more enjoyable when they were tricked into underestimating how much time had passed. The same study also found that people that believed that time flies when having fun were more likely to report the phenomena occurring, turning the whole thing into a self fulfilling prophecy.

Boring and dull tasks[edit | edit source]

The popular belief that dull tasks drag on forever is also fairly well known, but unlike the belief that time flies in enjoyable circumstances this belief seems to be more grounded in reality. Having nothing interesting to do or preforming a dull task on autopilot inevitably slows down ones mental processes, which although not exactly distracting do generate very little arousal leaving nothing to be distracted from ones internal clock by (O’Brien, Anastasio & Bushman, 2011). On a positive note though the dullness only lasts in the present moment, the brain generally remembering very little from the event as opposed to how it remembers unusual or highly arousing and complicated events. Some personality traits seem to enhance and deaden this effect as well, one example of which can be found in O’Brien, Anastasio and Bushman's (2011) study which found that the trait of entitlement in individuals caused time to move even slower for them in dull tasks.

Sadness and Depression[edit | edit source]

Studies done on sadness and depressions effect on time management indicate that although both do have an slowing effect on time perception it is not very strong, with some studies not being able to find any effect at all (Droit-Volet, Fayolle & Gil, 2011; Gil & Droit-Volet, 2009). The effect of sadness and depression seems to rely more upon attention based process itself, individuals feeling this way reporting low levels of arousal and a slowing down of mental processes (Droit-Volet, Fayolle & Gil, 2011). In regards to depression a distorted sense of time is actually one of its criteria's found in the old DSM IV, with individuals reporting a strong, slow time perspective. This may be related to chronically low levels of dopamine however, low dopamine being found to have a slowing effect on time (Meck, 1996).

Fight or Flight: Fear and danger[edit | edit source]

Out of all of the different types of emotions, fear is the one with the strongest effect on time perspective. Fear itself is a survival mechanism that generates a huge amount of arousal, coming into play when an individual comes across a dangerous or threatening stimuli to which time seems to slow down and the fight or flight response kicks in. In its most basic form the fight or flight response is the body's preparation for either conflict or escape and its activation prompts a large amount of temporary physiological changes in the body, some of which have been shown to effect the perception of time (Gil, Niedenthal & Droit-Volet, 2007; Wittmann, 2009). In addition to the huge arousal rush many situations that incite fear also fall under the oddball effect, where as the stimulus is unusual it's memory is retained by the brain in greater detail which can be mistaken as lasting for a longer period of time then it truly did (Eagleman, 2001).

Individual types of time perspective and emotion[edit | edit source]

As briefly touched upon before in psychology time perspective is also looked at in terms of types, in a manner somewhat similar to personality types. In the current research there is two major models of perspective type, the first and oldest being past and future orientations and the second being the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory:

Past and Future temporal orientation[edit | edit source]

Past and future styles of temporal orientation have been a subject of study for far longer then Zimbardo's Stanford Time Perspective Inventory and essentially makes up the basic building blocks of the inventory. It isn't exactly a proper theory or model though being closer in nature to a grouping of temporal constructs. In any case temporal orientation involves a predominate focus upon one of the three time zones (past, present and future) that in turn works together with ones overarching temporal perspective to create a kind of cognitive response bias that filters and interprets ones everyday life, strongly influencing one's thoughts, emotions and behavior (Holman & Silver, 1998).

In relation to emotion those with a past focused temporal orientation tend to be worst off, being focused predominately on the past having negative consequences for identity, personal achievement, and self satisfaction. Past time orientation is also noted as being particularly bad when combined with highly traumatic events which can create a mental sinkhole that the individual cannot climb out of, suffering from chronic levels of stress and temporal disintegration and having their sense of identity threatened (Holman & Silver, 1998). Future focused temporal orientation is judged to be much healthier for mental health and well-being, though like past focused individuals can suffer from identity, personal achievement, and self satisfaction problems in some situations. Emotionally they tend to be more stable, and very goal focused but are less socially focused and can seem more outwardly cold. Those with a future oriented personality will often change their goals into more emotionally focused ones when they feel they are near the end of their lives (Lang & Carstensen, 2002).

The Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory[edit | edit source]

The Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory was created by Philip Zimbardo and is the most advanced and well used perspective type model today. The inventory itself works somewhat like the big five personality test in that individuals have a score in each of the five categories, with the category they score highest in being their major perspective type. Each of these time perspectives have different effects on individuals personalities and emotionality and exert a dynamic influence on many important judgments, decisions, and actions (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999). A table of the five types of time perspectives in the inventory based off of the information given by its creators in Zimbardo & Boyd (1999) is as follows:

Type Focus and traits
Past-negative Focuses on negative, aversive personal experiences. This can often lead to feelings of bitterness and regret and other such negative emotions.
Past-positive Focuses on happy past events, taking a nostalgic view of the past. Tend to be family orientated and overall experience more positive and happy relationships then the other types. Often more cautious and conservative in their approaches to new ideas and events however.
Present-hedonistic Dominated by impulsive hedonistic pleasure seeking, and an inability to postpone immediate pleasures. Often happier and more popular with extroverted tendencies. Often less healthy and prone to risk taking and destructive behaviors however.
Present-fatalistic Overwhelming feeling of being trapped in the present and being unable to change the inevitability of the future. Often leads to anxiety, and depression due to feelings of powerlessness and can often induce fatalistic and risk taking behaviors.
Future-focused Highly ambitious, goal focused, reward dependent and systematic. Often more time focused and prone to feeling a nagging sense of urgency that often causes stress in the individual and makes them harder to interact with socially. Often willing to sacrifice social relationships and recreational time with low sensation and novelty seeking.

As can be seen each type has its own unique features, generating different emotional states and behaviors. It must be noted however that these types are not classified as stationary, being able to change over an individuals lifetime (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999). This means that an individual can attempt to change his perspective though how exactly one does this is still little understood and what research has been done suggests that it is quite difficult.

Can one control time perspective to better oneself and improve their life?[edit | edit source]

In theory the act of controlling ones time perspective can seem quite attractive. On a straightforward blow for blow approach to manipulate how fast or slow time moves for a person though doesn't work very well in practice, as the act of trying to regulate ones emotions actually causes one's time perspective to slow down (Vohs & Schmeichel, 2003). Changing ones time perspective type however can be done, and is even recommended in some certain cases, one example being someone with a traumatic past and a past orientated time perspective. This is even recommended in the case of Zimbardo's Time Perspective Inventory, as each personality type has its strengths and weaknesses- some more then others. In any case what is recommended is a mixture of all types of perspective to some degree, Zimbardo's Time Perspective Inventory even having an idealized time perspective score. Zimbardo's ideal score involves a high level of past-positive, a moderately high level of future orientation, a moderate level of selected present hedonism and low levels of both Past-negative and Present-fatalistic which in theory would generate a happier, healthier and more successful personality (Zimbardo & Boyd, 2008). As mentioned in brief before though exactly how to change ones own time perspective is still kind of vague and what information is given mentions its difficulty. Nevertheless there is some advice on the subject to be found, with Zimbardo & Boyd's (2008) book advising three key thought process to enable change: an understanding of relativity, consistent awareness, and continuous conscious effort. As such although it is difficult it is possible to change ones time perspective to improve their life, a change from a maladaptive perspective type doing wonders for severe negative emotional issues such as depression and severe stress.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

"For us convinced physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is an illusion, although a persistent one." - Albert Einstein

In conclusion emotion is quite intertwined with time perspective, both through an immediate reaction basis and through types of perspective. Time perspective itself is based on an illusionary basis, and is easily distorted away from outside measured time, emotional distractions generally being the cause of this. Time perspective can be slowed down or speed up depending on what emotion is distorting the individuals internal clock and the exact nature of the emotion generating stimuli. Time perspective also effects emotions through different types of time perspective, different types enacting different effects on ones personality and emotional state. Individuals can also attempt to better themselves by changing how they view time perspective which if successful often greatly improves present negative emotional states.

See also[edit | edit source]




Uninteresting tasks and motivation

References[edit | edit source]

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Zimbardo, P., & Boyd, J. (2008). The time paradox: The new psychology of time that will change your life. New York: Simon and Schuster

External links[edit | edit source]

"Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.." - Douglas Adams

(The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 1979)

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