Time consciousness

Could time orientation be a cultural dimension?

Do time and marshmallows have anything in common? Are you past oriented or future oriented? These are tricky questions and how on earth could this relate to human behaviour?

From reading about cultural dimensions in the sociocultural level of analysis, you will know that culture does influence behaviour in intriguing ways.

Could it be that we are influenced by a time perspective, i.e. are some people likely to look towards the past or live in the past? Are some people more oriented towards the future as suggested by the famous psychologist Philip Zimbardo?

Watch this video and see what you think: Zimbardo on time orientation.

Activity 1

Discuss in groups the following questions based on the video.

  1. What does Zimbardo mean when he claims that one's time perspective influences behaviour?
  2. Give three examples from the video that illustrate the point made by Zimbardo. Do you think that these examples are valid? What is the basis of your decision?
  3. Find examples yourself that could perhaps illustrate or contradict the points made by Zimbardo.
  4. What would be the value of recognizing "time orientation" as a cultural dimension?

Other psychologists have investigated the role of delayed gratification and its possible role in human behaviour. Could it be that some of the things Zimbardo talks about are not only cultural but also related to personality? Now take a look at this well-known experiment, which is based on Mischel's work on personality. Could it be that it also investigates whether children can take a future oriented perspective and get a larger reward or just give in to hedonism - the here-and-now pleasure perspective?

Activity 2

  1. Discuss if this experiment could add to our knowledge of the role of time orientation.
  2. Is it possible that an experiment like this one could predict your future success? Read this article in the New Yorker to know more.
  3. "And so what - I just play Computer games - could that really be such a problem?" Discuss this comment using your psychological knowledge.
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