Karina/the psychology of time synopsis

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Psychologist and professor emeritus at Stanford University, Philip Zimbardo, explains his though about ‘The psychology of Time’ during a Ted Talk presentation in Long Beach, California in February 2009. It scratches the surface of the topic of his publication written together with John Boyd from 2008: ‘The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life’. His presentation covers tests showing the correlation between temptation and success, what time perspectives are, how they shape our decision making and ultimately how to balance these time perspectives to solve problems.

Zimbardo starts with looking into the principles of Adam’s temptation of the forbidden fruit. No matter whether impulsive or reflecting, yielding or resisting, present or future focused, we see life as temptation. These temptations differ among people. Sex is a temptation of teenage girls, as 60% yielded to sexual temptations in the United States. Treats on the other hand are the temptation of four-year-olds. Zimbardo’s friend, Stanford professor Walter Mischel, conducted a marshmallows experiment with children in the 1960s. They were seated alone in a room for 15 minutes with a marshmallow on a plate in front of them. They were told they could eat it straight away, but if they waited till the end of the test without eating it, they would receive a second treat. An astonishing 2/3 of the children gave into temptation. The rest resisted, ‘delaying the now for later’. Fourteen years later the researcher went back to study the children. There was a large difference in many areas between the children that yielded or resisted temptation. The children that resisted did not only excel academically compared to the rest - they scored 250 points higher on their SATs. These children also got into less trouble, they were better students, they we self-confident and determined. They were future focussed, rather than present focussed.

Zimbardo calls the way humans non-consciously divide the flow of human experiences to time frames (or zones) as time perspective (TP). These happen automatically and subconsciously. These vary between cultures, social classes, educational levels, nations and people. They become bias as people learn to over-use some frames, and under-use others. Our decisions are determined by the action that needs to be done.

Present oriented people are interested in the immediate situation or stimulation - what is happening now (what other people are doing). Past oriented people focus on past experiences and memories - focus on what happened before. Future oriented people anticipate the consequences in the future (cost-benefit analysis) - they focus on what will be.

He argues that time paradox is something that will subconsciously determine every decision that you make, which is the extent to which you have bias to one of these time perspectives

Past TP - focused on positives Past TP - focused on negative Present TP - hedonism (focus on joys of life) Present TP - fatalism (doesn't matter, life is controlled) Future TP - life goal oriented Future TP - transcendental (life begins after death or the mortal body)

Zimbardo continues explaining that depending on the demands of the situation, it is important to learn how to mentally shift time perspectives - as it is flexible and fluid - allowing one time zone to take precedence while others recede temporarily. There are different optimal time profiles:

Past-positive: high Future: moderately high Present-hedonism: moderate

Past-negative: low Present-fatalism: low

To have an optimal temporal mix it is good to focus on: Past positive gives you roots to connect to your identity and family - to be grounded. Future gives you wings to soar to new destinations and challenges. Present hedonism gives you energy to explore people, places, self and sensuality.

He does point out that any time perspective in excess has more negatives than positives. Future orientated people often sacrifice family time, friend time, fun time, personal indulgences, hobbies and sleep for success. They live for work, achievement and control. Phil Zimbardo previously saw himself as only future orientated. He grew up poor in a south Bronx ghetto. His whole Sicilian family was past and present orientated. He sacrificed a lot to achieve success, all thanks to his teachers who got involved and taught him to be future orientated. At some point he understood how to balance his time perspectives. He added present-hedonism and past-positive. He states that now being 76 years old, he has more energy, is more productive and happier than ever before.

Zimbardo concludes that many life problems are solvable by understanding your time perspective and those of others. This idea is simple, yet the consequences are profound.

Since 2009 he is working together with Richard Sword to turn the Time Perspective Theory into a clinical therapy. They started a four-year long pilot study and establishing their time perspective therapy. Right now they are applying TP to problems such as:

chasing drop out rates of school children combatting all addictions (problems of present hedonism) enhancing teen health curing veterans' PSTD with time metaphors promoting sustainability and conservation reducing physical rehabilitation drop out rates by 50% altering appeals to suicidal terrorists modifying family conflicts as time perspectives clash