The New Psychology of Time

The Time Para­dox, a new book by Philip Zim­bar­do & John Boyd, puts forth an intrigu­ing argu­ment — our atti­tudes toward time, often uncon­scious ones, can strong­ly shape our per­son­al­i­ties and the kind of lives we lead. They can con­tribute to our hap­pi­ness and suc­cess, or our unhap­pi­ness and depres­sion.

The argu­ment goes some­thing like this: Not entire­ly know­ing­ly, we all focus on the past, present or future. And, in mod­er­a­tion, each focus can have some net good. Future-ori­ent­ed peo­ple tend to be ambi­tious and suc­cess­ful; present-ori­ent­ed peo­ple tend to have friends and fun; and past-ori­ent­ed peo­ple often have close fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships. But when we asso­ciate too strong­ly with one of these “time zones” (again often with­out real­iz­ing it), we run into prob­lems. When we’re too strong­ly focused on the future, we sac­ri­fice friends, fam­i­ly and fun. When we’re too present-ori­ent­ed, we leave our­selves open to hedo­nism and addic­tions. And when we cling to the past, we sim­ply get stuck in the past, and depres­sion usu­al­ly fol­lows. The upshot then is that we need to find a “tem­po­ral bal­ance,” and this applies not just to indi­vid­u­als, but to nations, reli­gious groups and social class­es as well. Accord­ing to Zim­bar­do and Boyd, larg­er social groups can tend toward dis­tort­ed sens­es of time. The Amer­i­can finan­cial cri­sis boils down to an extreme focus on the present, or a lack of con­cern for future con­se­quences. That’s essen­tial­ly what the big cred­it give­away was all about.

You may rec­og­nize Philip Zim­bar­do’s name. He’s a wide­ly rec­og­nized psy­chol­o­gy pro­fes­sor who was behind the famous Stan­ford Prison Exper­i­ment (1971). He has served as the pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion. And, last year, he pub­lished The Lucifer Effect, a New York Times best­seller.

To delve a bit more deeply into The Time Para­dox, you should watch (below) the engross­ing pre­sen­ta­tion that Zim­bar­do gave at Google’s HQ last month. Or you can lis­ten to this radio inter­view that aired recent­ly in New York City (iTunes Feed MP3). Last­ly, you can take a sur­vey on The Time Para­dox web site and learn more about your tem­po­ral bal­ance.


Sub­scribe to our feed

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.