The Power of Time Perspective

I’m not a fan of the presentation style but what Phil Zimbardo is saying is interesting and relevant to what we do in teaching and education. I’d start about the 1:40 mark- so that’s only 5 minutes of invested time if you watch it.

—-My summary—-
People end up biased in their perceptions and break down into the following categories with two main options in each category.

  • Past Oriented (positive/negative) – looking backwards and basing decisions off that
  • Present Oriented (hedonistic/fatalist) – focus on the now
  • Future Oriented (goals/transcendentallife begins after death)- cost benefit analysis, anticipated consequences

So the goal is to be able to shift perspective depending on the situation.
Optimum profile is high on past positive, moderately high on future, moderate on present hedonism and always low on pass negative and present fatalism.

Past positive – gives you roots, identity
Future – wings to new destinations and challenges
Present hedonistic – energy for exploration

Any time perspective in excess ends up being bad news.

If this interests you at all there’s a much longer and more detailed PDF available on Zimbardo’s horrific flash site. It’s under Publications>Downloads (which I’d link to directly if the page wasn’t in flash).

So there’s the obvious application to students and teaching them to use different time perspectives.

I’d also like to use this lens to look at the behavior of larger chunks of education.

You can easily see how an IT department might end up being focused on past negative. They were burned because a student did X in the past and they’ll make sure that never happens again, no matter the cost for the future. They only get noticed when things fail or when technology is used in an unfortunate manner. No one ever compliments an IT director on having good network speed or reliable servers. This results in a department focused on technology (and presumably the future) but driven by negatives from the past. The result is often not very pretty. I don’t blame the IT department. It makes sense. But the question remains, how do we change that focus? Who needs to be involved?

As I look back at what I’ve been writing here lately, it’s pretty clear I’m looking for larger systems to apply to education to make a difference1. I’m not sure the bottom up method of improving individual lessons and classrooms will work fast enough. There’s so much top down force with NCLB and high stakes testing. We need ways to channel that energy and ways to understand the mentality of those directing the energy.

1 Other than occasional bouts of self-loathing that is.