Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/Time perspective and relationships

From Wikiversity
Jump to: navigation, search
Time perspective and relationships:
What is time perspective, and how does it affect our relationships?
Parodyfilm.svg[Replace this text with the URL Go to a 3 min. audiovisual overview of this chapter.]


  • It has been argued that time is our most precious resource.
Attention yellow.svg Focus questions

Time perspective[edit]

It has been suggested that time perspective is a fundamental aspect of human experience which impacts our everyday decisions and behaviours (Bonniwell & Zimbardo, 2005). Regardless of the time or place in which we live, human beings have to deal with time in order to function in life.

What is Time Perspective?[edit]

Figure 1. The interaction between past, present and future - the underlying concept of time perspective

Subjective time, on the other hand, refers to the psychological representation of the concept of time and how we as individuals, perceive time ((). While objective time is a fixed construct, subjective time differs between individuals and is susceptible to manipulation. Sacket and colleagues (2010) demonstrated this in an experiment where they exposed individuals to a selection of songs for ten minutes. Afterwards, one group was told the period of time that had passed was five minutes and the other group was told the period of time was twenty minutes. The group that were told five minutes had passed, significantly enjoyed the music more, whereas the twenty minute group felt the time had ‘dragged on’. This manipulation of subjective time proved to be the difference to whether the situation had been enjoyable or not.

While objective time may influence the way in which an individual perceives time, subjective time, according to time perspective theory, is our psychological concept of dimensions of time which differs for each individual. Time perspective theory has been developed over many years and, very broadly suggests that time plays an important role in the way they think, feel and behave (). The theory suggests that we give meaning to our everyday life events by psychologically categorising human experience into three distinct temporal perspectives: past, present and future (Zimbardo, Kewough & Boyd, 1997).

Time perspective research[edit]

Lewin developed a model which described time perspective as the sum of an individual’s psychological evaluation of the past and their psychological evaluation of the future at any given moment (1951). In other words, an individual’s behaviour in the present moment is influenced by their perceptions of past experiences and their anticipation of future events. To use an example of a student contemplating asking a question in class, a psychological evaluation of the past might involve the student recalling a similar situation where they asked a question. Depending on whether the feedback the student received was positive or negative would partly determine whether they would ask the question or not. A psychological evaluation of the future might involve an assessment of whether the question is appropriate and relevant, potentially leading to feelings of competence, or inappropriate or irrelevant potentially leading to feelings of embarrassment. According to time perspective theory, a combination of past and future evaluations (which differs for each individual), determines our behaviour in the present moment, in this example, asking the question or not.

"I never think about the future. It comes soon enough."

- Albert Einstein

Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI)[edit]

The Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI) was introduced as a standardised measure of an individual’s time perspective. The ZTPI is a 56-item self-report questionnaire which attempts to measure the extent to which an individual perceives time through each of five distinct perspectives (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999). The past is divided into two perspectives: positive and negative. The present is divided into two perspectives: hedonistic and fatalistic. The fifth perspective is future. The ZTPI has been found to be a valid and reliable measure of time perspective across many studies

  • Past-negative - Individuals with a past-negative time perspective tend to focus their attention on negative memories from the past, they generally have a negative view of life and often find it difficult living in the present. Past-negative time perspective is associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and a low quality of life.
  • Past-positive - In contrast to past-negative, individuals with a past-positive time perspective have warm, happy and positive attitudes towards past experiences and memories. Individuals that score high on past-positive are often associated with high levels of self-esteem and happiness and are considered to have a healthy outlook on life.
  • Present-fatalistic - Individuals with a present-fatalistic time perspective believe they are not responsible for their outcome in life and that their future is already predetermined by fate. These individuals are associated with depression and anti-social behaviour and generally are seen to have a negative outlook on life.
  • Present-hedonistic - Individuals with a present-hedonistic time perspective are driven by enjoyment and excitement and don’t look far into the future to get their rewards. They are often associated with pleasure seeking and risky behaviours and often score low on scales of conscientiousness, consistency and impulse control.
  • Future - Individuals with a future time perspective are forward thinkers and like to plan ahead. They are reward driven and often delay immediate gratification for larger future rewards. Future time perspective has been associated with high academic achievement, well-being and impulse control.

It is important to note that individuals do not necessarily fall into any one of the time perspectives, but rather each perspective acts as a conceptual continuum by which an overall composite score can be calculated to indicate to what extent an individual perceives their life events, which in turn, stands to impact cognitions, emotions and behaviour (Zimbardo & Boyd, 2008). Mostly, an individual will have a dominant perspective, but often individuals have high scores in more than one of the perspectives. For example, it is often the case that individuals obtain high scores on past positive and future orientations. Similarly, individuals with high present-fatalistic scores often score highly on past-negative (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999). It should also be noted that high scores on more than one temporal perspective does not always make intuitive sense. For example, (REF) found that people can score highly on both past-positive and past negative, two perspectives that have been described as being on opposing ends of the ‘past’ scale (REF)

According to Zimbardo and Boyd, there is an ‘ideal time perspective’ which is based on average scores across each of their five perspectives. They suggest that the optimal time perspective is high Past-positive, moderate Present-hedonistic, moderate Future, low Past-negative and low Present-fatalistic. Click here to complete the ZTPI and compare your score to the ‘ideal time perspective’. The purpose of the ideal time perspective is to offer a baseline across the perspectives that people can compare their scores to which might offer insight to areas where individuals can work to improve their well-being and outlook on life (Zimbardo & Boyd, 2008).

Table 1.

A Brief Description of the Five Temporal Perspectives Proposed by Zimbardo with Example Items from the ZTPI

Description Example item from the ZTPI
Past-negative A focus on negative aspects, feelings and memories from the past 'I think about the bad things that have happened to me in the past'
Past-positive A focus on warm positive feelings and memories from the past 'It gives me pleasure to think about the past'
Present-hedonistic A focus on risk taking and impulsivity, living life in the present "Taking risks keeps my life from becoming boring"
Present-fatalistic A defeatist and hopeless view of life, often associated with depression "My life path is controlled by forces I cannot influence"
Future A focus on future orientation, planning and setting goals "I am able to resist temptations when I know there is work to be done"

A number of adaptations and variations have been made to the ZTPI. For a review, see Stolarski et al, 2015.

Relationships and Time perspective[edit]

Time perspective has been found to influence a range of human behaviours and social outcomes such as: risky driving (Zimbardo, Keough & Boyd, 1997), procrastination in the workplace (Gupta, Hershey & Gaur, 2012), substance use (Keough, Zimbardo, & Boyd, 1999), psychopathological disorders (van Beek, et al., 2011) and environmental behaviour (Milfont, Wilson, & Dinz, 2012). Research investigating the effects of time perspective on personal relationships, however, is relatively limited considering the seemingly strong influence the way individuals perceive time may impact on the way they seek and maintain personal relationships. Relationships and time are closely related. Whether a romantic partner, friend, workplace colleague, client, family member, or just an acquaintance, there is arguably a beginning point in all personal relationships where there is no shared past and both parties are primarily focussed on the present (Zimbardo & Boyd, 2008). As the relationship develops, the past grows and we begin to form expectations of what the future holds. As such, it stands to reason that we develop new attitudes towards time. If every personal relationship, whether a brief encounter or long lasting partnership, has a past, a present and a future, then the way individuals perceive time is likely to be a significant factor in the satisfaction, commitment, quality and longevity of personal relationships.

Future vs present perspectives[edit]

Nuttin (1985), argued that individuals with a future time perspective are more likely to succeed in life than individuals with a present temporal perspective as they are associated with higher levels of education, higher income and a healthier outlook on life. In comparison, present minded individuals are associated with lower socioeconomic status, lower likelihood to achieve academic success, more risky behaviours and higher rates of mental illness (Nuttin, 1985). He argued that western society is a 'future oriented world' and present minded individuals struggle to cope. Similarly, in a study exploring the associations between the five time perspectives from the ZTPI and social relationships, Holman and Zimbardo found that future oriented individuals were the most likely to receive social support from family and close friends (2009). In comparison with the other perspectives, future oriented individuals were associated with larger social networks and reported more meaningful relationships with significant others.

In contrast, Oner suggests that future oriented individuals are less likely to be satisfied in their relationships as they are more selective, more cautious and have higher expectations of the future of their relationships (Oner, 2000b). Oner found that relationship satisfaction was highest in individuals with a present temporal perspective. This is an interesting finding as research suggests that present focussed individuals lack emotional stability and are less likely to develop meaningful relationships (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999). This finding could be explained by present minded individuals exerting more effort in their relationships in the present moment and therefore reporting higher satisfaction at any given time. This study fails, however, to indicate the length of relationships of the participants. For example, present minded individuals, although reporting higher relationship satisfaction at the time of the study, might not be as committed to the relationship as their future minded counterparts. If this were the case it is likely that relationships between present minded individuals would not last as long, which would be consistent with much of the research around present minded people (Stolarski et al., 2016). Further, future minded individuals, although reporting less relationship satisfaction, might be in the process of developing a more meaningful long-term relationship and may be more satisfied over a longer period of time.

In another study by Oner, it was found that individuals who reported relationship dissatisfaction were more likely to score higher on future time perspective than those who were satisfied with their relationships (2001). While again, on face value, this might seem counterintuitive, it might be that individuals who are future focussed are more likely to stay in relationships that they are not happy in. It makes logical sense that the more future focussed an individual is, the more pressure they might put upon themselves to make their long term relationships work regardless, potentially, of whether they are satisfied or not.

While the findings of these studies are interesting, it is the fundamental concept of present minded individuals that they are happier and more satisfied in the present moment and do not project far into the future for gratification. Whereas, future minded individuals are more concerned about future commitment levels in their relationships and therefore are less likely to report that they are happy and satisfied in the present moment. Therefore, it could be argued that to gain an understanding of the effect of time perspective on our relationships, a longitudinal study design would be needed to be able to more accurately measure the relationship satisfaction of a future minded individual. This would be important when comparing future and present minded individuals, as this clearly cannot be captured in a questionnaire in the present moment.

Attachment Theory (Bowlby, 1969)[edit]

Attachment theory has been found to be closely linked with time perspective, particularly in the context of personal relationships (Laghi et al., 2009). According to AT, the attachment individuals have with their caregivers in infancy will influence the development of childhood memories. An internal working model of oneself is then formed (Bowlby, 1969). If the attachment is secure, an individual is likely to have positive childhood memories and anticipations of future happiness in their relationships.

Figure 3. Secure attachment to a caregiver during infancy is associated with higher relationship satisfaction in adulthood

Insecure attachment however, is related to negative memories of the past, negative cognitions in the present and negative expectations of future relationships. Not surprisingly, there is a strong association between secure attachment and relationship satisfaction. Also not surprisingly, there is a strong association between insecure attachment and relationship dissatisfaction (Laghi et al., 2009). It is suggested that an individual’s time perspective is formed during adolescence, particularly as this is around the time humans become physiologically able to anticipate and expect future scenarios (Mello & Worrell, 2015). It seems logical therefore, that a person’s attachment type will predict whether they will develop positive or negative temporal perspectives. Holman and Zimbardo supported this idea when they reported that individuals with a Past-negative temporal perspective were less likely to have had close parental support and were associated with higher levels of relationship conflict with significant others (2009). However, it might be that attachment type is just one of many factors contributing to the way in which we perceive time. To investigate this further, it would be interesting to measure differences in time perspective among participants with secure attachment and separately measure differences in time perspective among participants with insecure attachment. Significant differences within each group would highlight variability independent of attachment type, potentially opening new areas of study to add to the growing body of time perspective literature.

Socioemotional Selectivity Theory[edit]

Socioemotional selectivity theory (SST) attempts to explain the role of time in an individual’s pursuit of social goals and selection of social partners (Carstensen, Issacowitz & Charles, 1999). The theory suggests that when a significant ending is perceived in an individual's future, we become more focussed on emotional social goals. The classic example of a significant ending is death, as such the theory suggests that as we get older and our time becomes more limited, we tend to change our time perspective to a more present based orientation. This change is associated with a shift from a pursuit of knowledge related social goals in earlier adulthood where the development of relationships would have an emphasis on future reward, to a pursuit of emotionally meaningful goals in later adulthood where a stronger emphasis would be placed on emotional support and warmth (Carstensen et al., 1999).

Figure 4. As we age, we become more present minded and place a higher emphasis on emotional support in our relationships

Lang and Carstensen (2002) found support of SST in a study assessing social relationships across the lifespan. In a sample of participants ranging from 20 to 90 years old, they reported older participants were more likely to pursue emotionally meaningful relationships than younger participants, and as such, in accordance with SST, reported higher relationship satisfaction. These findings offer further support to SST as a reliable framework for future time perspective and relationship research. However, some have questioned whether the these findings are generalisable to non-western cultures that place a higher emphasis on collectivism (Grossmann et al., 2014). Further, there are limitations when applying SST in the context of the effects of time perspective on relationships. First, SST is a lifespan theory and does not account for differences in the effect of goal pursuit on social relationships between individuals of the same age. Second, SST is primarily focussed on future time perspective and does not account for past perspectives. This is an important limitation as past temporal perspectives have been found to significantly predict relationship satisfaction (Molinari et al., 2016). Third, individuals have been found to pursue social goals because they are naturally present minded and enjoy social relationships, and are not necessarily in the process of changing from a future perspective due to an impending significant ending (Holman & Zimbardo, 2009). Finally, it has been suggested that the type of events leading up to feelings of a limited future might in themselves cause a desire to seek emotional relationships independent of psychological time. Further, time perspective is a reliable predictor of social goal pursuit regardless of whether a significant ending is perceived (Holman & Zimbardo, 2009).

Balanced time perspective[edit]

A balanced time perspective refers to the mental ability to change between temporal perspectives depending on situational demands (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999). As mentioned above, it has been suggested that the ideal time perspective acts as an optimal conceptual pathway through each of the five ZTPI perspectives. This view assumes that an individual’s temporal perspective remains relatively static over the life time, similar to a personality trait. However, the ideal pathway may not be as straightforward as first appears. For example,

"In an optimally balanced time perspective, the past, present, and future components blend and flexibly engage, depending on a situation’s demands and our needs and values"

- Philip Zimbardo

while Zimbardo and Boyd's 'ideal time perspective' includes high scores in Past-positive, research has also found that past positive individuals are less likely to be satisfied in their relationships (Stolarski et al., 2016; Mollinari et al., 2016). Similarly, people living in the present report the highest levels of relationship satisfaction, but for how long? And how well will an individual function in a long-term relationship without planning for the future? It has long been suggested that a positive view of the future is key to optimal functioning, but does it come at the expense of having fun in the present?

The concept of balanced time perspective suggests that an individual’s temporal perspective need not remain static over their life and may change depending on situational demands (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999). The theory suggests that a balanced time perspective is the key to well-being as opposed to an over dominance of any perspective, which can become dysfunctional (Bonniwell et al., 2010). The theory places a higher emphasis on the dynamic nature of the constructs of time perspective and, in line with the constantly changing world we live in, a balanced time perspective enables us to better cope with the emotional, social and environmental demands of the situation (Bonniewell & Zimbardo, 2005). This seems particularly apt in the context of social relationships, as, regardless of which country or culture we belong to or come from, we are constantly meeting new people and as such, it is important that we are able to adapt in order to create and maintain meaningful personal relationships.

We can come to acquire a balanced time perspective through education and awareness of ourselves and others in a temporal context.

Limitations in time perspective research[edit]

  • Over-emphasis on individual constructs of time perspective
  • Difficulties in operationally defining integrated time perspectives
  • Data predominantly obtained from self-report inventories - socially desirable answering

·     Mollineri found that negative views of the past are associated with lower confidence in future relationships

·     Surprisingly, positive views of the past associated with relationship problems – this is thought to be due to dependant decision making styles

·     Present people – more adaptive relational style – more confidence – more trust in self and others, in contrast, future people were associated with worry, concern and relationship insecurities

Note that the participants in this study were adolescents and it might be that adolescents are more likely to be more present focussed (or at least report that they are)

According to Oner:

  • present focussed individuals have higher tolerance of negativity and are less prone to jealousy than future focussed individuals
  • the greater the need and concern for future commitment, the higher the levels of relationship dissatisfaction

Can we use what we know to improve our relationships?[edit]

In Zimbardo and Boyd's 2008 book, 'The Time Paradox', they suggest that a temporal imbalance between two individuals is likely to cause conflict in their personal relationships.

Zimbardo and Boyd discuss their time perspective research in the context of relationship satisfaction and suggest that a temporal in balance between two people is likely to cause friction and disagreement (Zimbardo & Boyd, 2008).

According to Zimbardo and Boyd, on average, women are more future oriented and men more present oriented (2008).

  • Meeting in the present is the most effective way to deal with an imbalance
  • Knowledge and awareness is key
  • People often attribute their unhappiness towards the other person and not their TP
  • Future people can train themselves to be more present minded, which will likely improve their relationship satisfaction.

Give an example here of a future person and a present person combining TPs to balance their 'relationship specific' collective TP.


See also[edit]


Boniwell, I., Osin, E., Alex Linley, P., & Ivanchenko, G. V. (2010). A question of balance: Time perspective and well-being in British and Russian samples. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(1), 24-40.

Boniwell, I., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2015). Balancing time perspective in pursuit of optimal functioning. Positive Psychology in Practice: Promoting Human Flourishing in Work, Health, Education, and Everyday Life, Second Edition, 223-236.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss v. 3 (Vol. 1). Random House. Furman, W., & Buhrmester, D.(2009). Methods and measures: The network of relationships inventory: Behavioral systems version. International Journal of Behavioral Development33, 470-478.

Carstensen, L. L., Isaacowitz, D. M., & Charles, S. T. (1999). Taking time seriously: A theory of socioemotional selectivity. American psychologist54(3), 165.

Grossmann, I., Karasawa, M., Kan, C., & Kitayama, S. (2014). A cultural perspective on emotional experiences across the life span. Emotion14(4), 679.

Gupta, R., Hershey, D. A., & Gaur, J. (2012). Time perspective and procrastination in the workplace: An empirical investigation. Current Psychology31(2), 195-211.

Holman, E. A., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2009). The social language of time: The time perspective–social network connection. Basic and applied social psychology31(2), 136-147.

Keough, K. A., Zimbardo, P. G., & Boyd, J. N. (1999). Who's smoking, drinking, and using drugs? Time perspective as a predictor of substance use. Basic and applied social psychology, 21(2), 149-164.

Laghi, F., D’Alessio, M., Pallini, S., & Baiocco, R. (2009). Attachment representations and time perspective in adolescence. Social Indicators Research90(2), 181-194.

Lang, F. R., & Carstensen, L. L. (2002). Time counts: future time perspective, goals, and social relationships. Psychology and aging17(1), 125.

Lewin, K. (1951) Field Theory in the Social Sciences: Selected Theoretical Papers. New York, NY: Harper.

Mello, Z. R., & Worrell, F. C. (2015). The past, the present, and the future: A conceptual model of time perspective in adolescence. In Time perspective theory; review, research and application (pp. 115-129). Springer International Publishing.

Milfont, T. L., Wilson, J., & Diniz, P. (2012). Time perspective and environmental engagement: A meta‐analysis. International Journal of Psychology, 47(5), 325-334.

Molinari, L., Speltini, G., Passini, S., & Carelli, M. G. (2016). Time perspective in adolescents and young adults: Enjoying the present and trusting in a better future. Time & Society25(3), 594-612.

Nuttin, J. R. (1985). Future time perspective and motivation: Theory and research method. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Öner, B. (2000a). Future time orientation and relationships with the opposite sex. The Journal of psychology134(3), 306-314.

Öner, B. (2000b). Relationship satisfaction and dating experience: Factors affecting future time orientation in relationships with the opposite sex. The Journal of psychology134(5), 527-536.

Öner, B. (2001). Factors predicting future time orientation for romantic relationships with the opposite sex. The Journal of psychology135(4), 430-438.

Sackett, A. M., Meyvis, T., Nelson, L. D., Converse, B. A., & Sackett, A. L. (2010). You’re having fun when time flies: The hedonic consequences of subjective time progression. Psychological Science21(1), 111-117.

Stolarski, M., Fieulaine, N., & van Beek, W. (2015). Time perspective theory: Review, research and application. Cham: Springer International.

Stolarski, M., Wojtkowska, K., & Kwiecińska, M. (2016). Time for love: Partners’ time perspectives predict relationship satisfaction in romantic heterosexual couples. Time & Society25(3), 552-574.

van Beek, W., Berghuis, H., Kerkhof, A., & Beekman, A. (2011). Time perspective, personality and psychopathology: Zimbardo’s time perspective inventory in psychiatry. Time & society20(3), 364-374.

Zimbardo, P. G., Keough, K. A., & Boyd, J. N. (1997). Present time perspective as a predictor of risky driving. Personality and Individual Differences23(6), 1007-1023.

Zimbardo, P. G., & Boyd, J. N. (1999). Putting time in perspective: A valid, reliable individual-differences metric. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology77, 1271-1288.

Zimbardo, P. G., Boyd, J. N. (2008). The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change your Life. New York, NY: Free Press.

External links[edit]