Motivation and emotion/Tutorials/Time perspective

Tutorial 10: Time perspective

Resource type: this resource contains a tutorial or tutorial notes.

This is the tenth tutorial for the motivation and emotion unit of study.


Figure 1. Did you know that anyone can travel through time, simply by using their imagination?

This tutorial is about the psychology of time and, more specifically, Zimbardo's model of time perspective and how it relates to motivation and emotion.

Would you like to time travel?

Well, it turns out, you already do.

Time perspective relates to cognitive psychology and personality, as well as motivation and emotion.

Take-home message: Time perspective unconsciously influences our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour; the ideal involves flexible use of past, present, and future perspectives.

Time perspectiveEdit

Our lives are unconsciously influenced by our cognitions about time. By understanding this, we can optimise our time perspective to become more effective in our lives.

What is time perspective?Edit

Did you know that we can travel through time (see Figure 1)?

It is actually very simple to do and we are doing it "all the time".

Figure 2. People unconsciously adopt different time perspectives - whether past, present, or future.

For example, close your eyes and think about what happened:

  • 10 minutes ago
  • yesterday
  • many years ago

Similarly, you could imagine various futures for yourself e.g., in:

  • 1 hour
  • 1 year
  • 30 years

Or all your thought and attention could be focused on what is happening in the present.

Time perspective (TP) refers to how we think about time. It can be broadly divided into (see Figure 2):

  • Past
  • Present
  • Future


Complete the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI), then discuss the theory and class results.

  • ZTPI (56 out of the 61 items count towards the 5 factors; 5 are filler items).
  • Enter your 5 factor scores into this Google Form


TP theory considers:

  • the types of TP
  • TP principles


TP can be conceptualised in terms of whether it focuses on past, present, and future, but also by the nature of that focus (e.g., positive or negative). This leads to five time perspectives suggested by Zimbardo (2009; see Figure 3):

  • Past Negative
  • Past Positive
  • Present Hedonistic
  • Present Fatalistic
  • Future
Figure 3. Six possible time perspective factors, based on Zimbardo (2009). It is unclear whether there should be separate Future Negative and Future Positive types.

Zimbardo also suggests another time perspective:

For more information, see an overview of time perspective types (


  • TP influences thoughts, feelings, and behaviour unconsciously
  • Each TP has benefits, but excesses create negative consequences
  • TPs are learned through personal experience
  • We can learn to change TPs

ZTPI scoresEdit

Compare your ZTPI scores with the:

  • Norms:
    • Past Negative (Mdn = 3.00)
    • Past Positive (Mdn = 3.22)
    • Present Fatalism (Mdn = 2.33)
    • Present Hedonism (Mdn = 3.93)
    • Future (Mdn = 3.38)
  • Ideal profile
    • Past Positive - High (like your past)
    • Present Hedonism - Moderate (choose when to select pleasure in the present) [1]
    • Future - Moderately high (work for the future)
  • Worst profile:
    • Past Negative - High
    • Present Fatalism - High
    • = living in a negative past and believing you can do nothing to change it[2]


Does the name, Philip Zimbardo ring a bell?

It should for psychology students!

Maybe something about a prison experiment?

Yes, in the early 1970s Zimbardo decided to tackle a fundamental question that had plagued psychologists since World War II – are humans fundamentally evil – or do extreme circumstances mean that normal people can be made to act inhumanely?

But fast forward a few decades and Zimbardo has worked on many other areas including, more recently, time perspective.

Watch: Philip Zimbardo prescribes a healthy take on time (Philip Zimbardo, 6:31 min, TED talk, 2009)


  • What do you think about time perspective?
  • How could your time perspective be improved?
  • How could time perspective be applied?


Zimbardo's two books on this topic are:


See alsoEdit

Book chapters
Lectures and tutorials


Sword, R. M., Sword, R. K., Brunskill, S. R., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2014). Time perspective therapy: A new time-based metaphor therapy for PTSD. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 19(3), 197-201.

Zimbardo, P. G. & Boyd, J. N. (2009). The time paradox: Using the new psychology of time to your advantage. Free Press.

Zimbardo, P. G., Sword, R. M., & Sword, R. K. M. (2012). The time cure: Overcoming PTSD with the new psychology of time perspective therapy. Jossey-Bass.