Mind & Body

This Psychology Quiz Will Explain Your Relationship With Time

If you procrastinate a lot, the internet will furnish you with a million possible reasons. Maybe you fear failure. Maybe you fear success. Maybe you can't prioritize. Well, here's a new one: Maybe the issue is your time perspective.

The Five Dimensions of Time Perspective

According to Philip G. Zimbardo, a psychology professor (now emeritus) at Stanford most famous for the Stanford Prison Experiment, time is "the currency of our lives." Your view of it influences every choice you make: whether you wait until the last minute to start a project, whether you speed on the highway when you're in a rush, whether you go to the dentist.

Zimbardo argued that human relationships with time were quantifiable but multifaceted. Hence his invention: the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory. This 56-item assessment measures a person's relationship with time on five axes: future orientation, past-negative orientation, past-positive orientation, present-hedonistic orientation, and present-fatalistic orientation.

Future Orientation

The future-oriented person cares more about the consequences of their actions than their comfort in the present. This makes them more likely than most people to save for retirement, floss, and drive safely. However, these same people have trouble enjoying the present moment, and in unpredictable situations, they struggle with anxiety.

Past Orientation (Positive or Negative)

The past-oriented person is more loyal than the typical person to commitments they've made in the past, and more prone to guilt when they have to break them. They're also loyal to the past, holistically — they tend to do things the way they've always done them. They were likely one of the last stragglers to get a smartphone.

A positive past orientation means someone frequently nostalgic for past glory days; a negative past orientation means someone prone to dwelling on past problems even in pleasant moments.

Present Orientation (Hedonistic or Fatalistic)

The present-oriented person is most interested in what is, not what was or what might be. They tend to think concretely rather than abstractly, and they give in easily to temptation even when they know they shouldn't. They also tend to take a lot of risks because they focus on present thrill over possible consequences. These are the people prone to procrastination and risky driving.

Present-oriented people land in one of two camps. Someone with a present-hedonistic orientation focuses on present pleasures over future consequences. They would rather enjoy the moment than work hard, though they can be hyper-focused workers when they enjoy the process of the work.

A present-fatalistic orientation, on the other hand, means feeling that your life is controlled by forces beyond your control. (This could be God, or just "the system" — any powerful entity.) The person with this orientation believes in luck, but rarely makes plans or works hard. Why bother? What will be, will be.

The Quiz

To find out your own time perspective, you can take the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory via this quiz. It's 61 items total, but you only need to respond to the 56 starred ones; the last five ask for optional demographic information.

It's made up of a series of statements like "Things rarely work out as I expected" or "Life today is too complicated; I would prefer the simpler life of the past." You respond to each one on a five-item Likert scale, which ranges from "Very untrue" to "Very true."

When you reach the results page, you'll find your scores on the five dimensions of time perspective. Everyone has a mix of the five orientations — we all know we have a past, present, and future — but the orientations where you score highest are the ones that dominate your perspective.

On the results page, you'll also find a graph showing the average scores and "ideal scores" on each dimension. Zimbardo and his colleague, John N. Boyd, argued that the best time perspective was high future and present-hedonistic orientations. Combined, they ensure you enjoy the present moment while behaving responsibly.

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Learn more about this from Zimbardo himself in "The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life," which he co-authored with John Boyd, Ph.D. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Mae Rice February 14, 2019

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