J O H N G . K U N A , P S Y D A N D A S S O C I A T E S
W W W . J O H N G K U N A P S Y D A N D A S S O C I A T E S . C O M
Psychology of Time
I. Introduction to the Psychology of Time
Time is both an objective reality, as well as a subjective psychological construct
Time could be defined as the physical measurement of motion (ie,
the measurement of the motion of the earth around the sun),
Time is also a psychological construct
“A watched pot never boils” = the seeming prolongation of less enjoyable
“Time flies when you’re having fun” is indicative of the psychological
phenomenon whereby perception of time is directly proportional to our perceived
level of enjoyment in the present task.
II. Psychology of Time: A (brief!) review of the
There is at present a vast literature on the psychology
Grondin, 2010 offers a thorough bibliography.
Some specific studies:
Psychology of time as it relates to our emotional state (Droit-Volet and
Psychology of time and Memory (Fuminori, 2006),
Children’s perception of time (Droit-Volet, 2013)
III. The vocabulary of the Psychology of Time
A distinct lack of clarity and a uniform terminology is
apparent throughout the literature (Hulbert and Lens, 1988;
Time perception, temporal orientation, and time perspective,
are often used equivocally (Hulbert and Lens, 1988).
Concepts such as temporal experience, subjective experience,
and sense of time are all used interchangeably and indicate
how human beings delineate the passage of time into chunks
IV. Some Operational Definitions
Time attitude refers to the positive or negative emotional
response when understood in contradistinction towards
past, present or future time periods (Nuttin, 1985).
Time orientation, on the other hand, involves a defining
which of the above time periods a person tends to favor
(De Volder, 1979).
Time perception is described as an individual’s subjective
assessment of the passage of time itself.
V. Some Theoretical Camps
Nuttin (1985), for example, describes time
perception as a psychological construct containing
four sub-factors: extension, structuralization, and
realism. Nuttin represents a phenomenological
approach to time perception.
Tulving (2002) on the other hand, coined the term
“chronesthesia” to describe a person’s subjective
experience of time.
V. A Neurological Approach to Time Perspective
The increase in new technologies over the past 15 years has led to a
growing body of literature on the perception of time from a
neurological perspective (Coull, Vidal, Nazarian, &Macar, 2004).
With such a vast literature on the neurological component of time
perception, an exhaustive review would not be possible here.
Penney and Vaitilingam (2008) provide an invaluable list of tables
obtained through imaging techniques.
Macar and Vidal (2009) further provide a vital resource for those
interested in EEG data concerning time perception.
VI. Zimbardo and Boyd (1999)
They made a significant contribution to the study of time
Defined time perspective as the way in which individuals
organize and relate to the dimensions of past, present
Created an instrument to measure one’s perspective of
time—the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI).
The instrument measures 5 categories of time perspective:
Past Negative (PN) is indicative of a negative view of the past, and may
possibly indicate past trauma;
Past Positive (PP) suggests a more positive and receptive view of past events;
Present Hedonistic (PH), as the name implies, is associated with pleasure
seeking in the present, with lack of concern for future consequences;
Present Fatalistic (PF) describes a time perspective with lack of hope for the
future, as well as the notion that at present fatalistic forces oversee one’s
Future (F) time perspective is concerned with rewards given after achievement
of long term goals.
VII. Zimbardo and Boyd (1999): The Research
Found that a Past Negative (PN) time perspective was
correlated with fewer close friends, anxiety, depression and
lower self-esteem (Zimbardo and Boyd, 1999).
Further research has corroborated this, noting that
individuals with a PN perspective also tend to gamble more
(Wassarman, 2002), and are more likely to be in drug and
alcohol programs (Klingeman, 2001).
On the other hand, high PP scores were related to higher self-
esteem levels and higher levels of well-being as well as
agreeableness and energy levels (Zimbardo and Boyd, 1999).
Zimbardo and Boyd, Cont.
Research on future time perspectives (F) indicates positive
correlates of well-being such as less psychopathy (Wallace, 1956,
cited in Zimbardo and Boyd, 1999) and higher levels of academic
achievement (Zimbardo and Boyd, 1999),
It has also been suggested that an overemphasis on a future time
perspective inhibits spontaneity as well as an inability to enjoy the
present (Boniwell and Zimbardo, 2004).
Finally, while some research has indicated that Present temporal
focus is associated with general subjective happiness
(Csikszentrnihalyi, 1992; Keough, et a1., 1999), a Present Temporal
focus could also be concerned with instant gratification and a lack of
regard for the consequences of behavior.
Next: An introduction to the concept of
Mindfulness; an analysis of empirical studies
correlating Mindfulness and Perception of Time with
Subjective Well-Being (both eudaimonic and henonic
Implications for clinical practice will be offered.
Anderson, C. M. (2000). From molecules to mindfulness. How vertically fractal time
fluctuations unify cognition and emotion. Consciousness & Emotion, 1 (2),
Barnes, S., Brown, K.W., Campbell, W.K., Krusemark, E., & Rogge, R.D. (2007).The role of
mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to Relationship Stress. Journal of Marital
and Family Therapy, 33 (4), 482-500.
Boniwell, I. and Zimbardo, P. G. (2004). ‘Balancing One’s Time Perspective in Pursuit of Optimal
Functioning’, in P. A. Linley and S. Joseph (eds) Positive Psychology in Practice, pp. 165-78. Hoboken, NJ:
Brown, K. W. and Ryan, R. M. (2003). ‘The Benefits of Being Present: Mindfulness and Its Role in
Psychological Wellbieng’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84(4): 822- 48.
Czikszentmihalyi, M. (1992). The Psychology of Happiness. London: Rider
Coull, J. T., Vidal, F., Nazarian, B., & Macar, F. (2004). Functional anatomy of the attentional modulation
of time estimation. Science, 303, 1506-1508.
Davis, D.M., & Hayes, J.A. (2011). What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of
psychotherapy-related research. Psychotherapy, 48 (2), 198-208.
De Volder, M. (1979). ‘Time Orientation: A Review’, Psychologica Belgica 19: 61-79
Drake, L., Duncan, E., Sutherland, F., Abernethy, C., & Henry, C. (2008). Time
perspective and correlates of well-being. Time & Society, 17 (1), 47-61. doi:
Droit-Volet, S. and Meck, W. H. (2007). How Emotions Color our Perception of Time. Trends
in Cognitive Sciences, 11(12), 504-513.
Droit-Volet, S. (2013). Time perception in children: A neurodevelopmental approach.
Neuropsychologia. 51 (2), 220-234. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2012.09.023
Fuminori, O. (2006). The effect of memory on time perception. The Japanese Journal of
Psychonomic Science, 25(2), 208-211.
Glicksohn, J. (1992). Subjective time estimation in altered sensory environments.
and Behavior, 24 (5), 634-652. doi:10.1177/0013916592245004.
Grondin, S. (2010). Timing and time perception: A review of recent behavioral and
neuroscience findings and theoretical directions. Attention, Perception &
Psychophysics, 72 (3), 561-582. doi: 10.3758/APP.72.3.561
Gulliksen, H. (1927). The influence of occupation upon the perception of time.
Journal of Experimental Psychology, 10 (1), 52-59. doi: 10.1037/h0073995
Hulbert, R. J. and Lens, W. (1988). ‘Time and Self-Identity in Later Life’,
International Journal of Aging and Human Development 27: 293-303
Jensen, C.G., Vangkilde, S., Frokjaer, V., &Hasselbalch. (2012). Mindfulness
training affects attention- or is it attentional effort?. Journal of Experimental
Psychology, 141 (1), 106-123. doi: 10.1037/a0024931
Keng, S.L., Smoski, M.J., & Robins, C.J. (2011). Effects of mindfulness on
psychological health: A Review of Empirical Studies. Clinical Psychology, 31
Keough, K. A., Zimbardo, P. G. and Boyd, J. N. (1999), ‘Who’s Smoking,
Drinking and Using Drugs? Time Perspective as a Predictor of Substance
Use’, Basic and Applied Psychology 21(2): 149-64
Kleinbohl, D., & Holzl, R. (2012). A "view from No-when" on time
perception experiments. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38 (5),
Klingeman, H. (2001). ‘The Time Game: Temporal Activity on Emotional
Well-being Among Older Australian Women: Cross-sectional and
Longitudinal Analysis’, Time & Society 10(2-3): 303-28.
Nuttin, J. (1985). Future Time Perspective and Motivation: Theory and
Research Methods. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum
Macar, F., & Vidal, F. (2009). Timing processes: An outline of
behavioural and neural indices not systematically
considered in timing models. Canadian Journal of
Experimental Psychology, 63, 227-
Penney, T. B., & Vaitilingam, L. (2008). Imaging time. In S.
Grondin (Ed.), Psychology of time (pp. 261-294).
Bingley, U.K.: Emerald Group.
Tulving, E. (2002). Chronesthesia: Conscious awareness of
subjective time. In D. T. Stuss & R. T. Knight (Eds.),
Principles of frontal lobe function (pp. 311-325). New York:
Oxford University Press.
Wassarman, H. S. (2002). ‘The Role of Expectancies and Time
Perspectives in Gambling Behavior’, Dissertation Abstracts
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Wittmann, M. (2009). The inner experience of time.
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Zimbardo, P. G. and Boyd, J. N. (1999). ‘Putting Time in
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