Motivation and emotion/Tutorials/Time perspective

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Tutorial 10: Time perspective
This is the tenth tutorial for the motivation and emotion unit of study.

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Did you know that anyone can travel through time, simply by using their imagination?

This tutorial is about:

  • the psychology of time
  • Zimbardo's model of time perspective and how it relates to motivation and emotion

Would you like to time travel?

Well, it turns out, you already do by adopting different time perspectives (e.g., past, present, future).

Time perspectives relate to cognitive psychology, personality, and motivation and emotion.

Our lives are unconsciously influenced by our cognitions about time. By understanding this, we can optimise our time perspective to become more effective in our lives.

Take-home messages:

  • Time perspective unconsciously influences our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour
  • The ideal profile involves flexible use of past, present, and future time perspectives

What is time perspective?[edit | edit source]

Did you know that we can travel through time (see Figure 1)?

Time travel is actually very simple to do and we are doing it "all the time".

Figure 2. People unconsciously adopt different time perspectives - whether past, present, or future.

For example, close your eyes and think about what happened:

  • 10 minutes ago
  • yesterday
  • many years ago

Similarly, you imagine various futures for yourself e.g., in:

  • 1 hour
  • 1 year
  • 30 years

Or you could focus all your thought and attention could be focused on what is happening in the present.

Time perspective (TP) refers to how we think about time. It can be broadly divided into (see Figure 2):

  • Past
  • Present
  • Future

ZTPI[edit | edit source]

Complete the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI), then discuss the theory and class results.

Theory[edit | edit source]

Time perspective theory considers:

  • the types of time perspective
  • time perspective principles

Types[edit | edit source]

Time perspective can be conceptualised in terms of whether it focuses on past, present, and future, but also by the valence of that focus (e.g., positive or negative). This leads to the five time perspectives suggested by Zimbardo (2009; see Figure 3):

  • Past Negative
  • Past Positive
  • Present Hedonistic
  • Present Fatalistic
  • Future

Note that it is unclear whether future should be separated into future negative and future positive (there is mixed evidence).

Figure 3. Six possible time perspective factors, based on Zimbardo (2009). It is unclear whether there should be separate Future Negative and Future Positive types.

Zimbardo also suggests another time perspective:

which is about focusing on time beyond one's lifetime.

For more information, see an overview of time perspective types (

Principles[edit | edit source]

  • Time perspective influences thoughts, feelings, and behaviour unconsciously
  • Each time perspective has benefits, but excesses create negative consequences
  • Time perspectives are learned through personal experience
  • We can learn to change our time perspectives

ZTPI scores[edit | edit source]

Compare your ZTPI scores with the:

  • Norms:
    • Past Negative (Mdn = 3.0)
    • Past Positive (Mdn = 3.2)
    • Present Hedonism (Mdn = 3.9)
    • Present Fatalism (Mdn = 2.3)
    • Future (Mdn = 3.4)
  • Ideal profile
    • Past Positive - High (like your past)
    • Present Hedonism - Moderate (choose when to select pleasure in the present) [1]
    • Future - Moderately high (work for the future)
  • Worst profile:
    • Past Negative - High
    • Present Fatalism - High
    • = living in a negative past and believing you can do nothing to change it[2]

Multimedia[edit | edit source]

Does the name, Philip Zimbardo ring a bell?

It should for psychology students!

Maybe something about a prison experiment?

In the early 1970s Zimbardo tackled a fundamental question that had plagued psychologists since World War II – are humans fundamentally evil – or do extreme circumstances mean that normal people can be made to act inhumanely?

Fast forward a few decades and Zimbardo has worked on many other areas of psychology including, more recently, time perspective.

Watch: Philip Zimbardo prescribes a healthy take on time (Philip Zimbardo, 5:36 min, TED talk, 2009)

Discussion[edit | edit source]

  • How could your time perspective be improved?
  • How could time perspective be applied?

Books[edit | edit source]

Zimbardo's two books on this topic are:

Recording[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

Book chapters
Lectures and tutorials

References[edit | edit source]

Sword, R. M., Sword, R. K., Brunskill, S. R., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2014). Time perspective therapy: A new time-based metaphor therapy for PTSD. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 19(3), 197-201.

Zimbardo, P. G. & Boyd, J. N. (2009). The time paradox: Using the new psychology of time to your advantage. Free Press.

Zimbardo, P. G., Sword, R. M., & Sword, R. K. M. (2012). The time cure: Overcoming PTSD with the new psychology of time perspective therapy. Jossey-Bass.