How do our perceptions of time affect the decisions we make and how can we measure this across countries and cultures? Anna Sircova, freelance researcher based in Copenhagen, Denmark, uses the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory to address these questions and more in the new study titled “Global Look at Time: A 24-Country Study of the Equivalence of the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory” out last week in SAGE Open.Intrigued by Anna’s research and inspired by her provocative thoughts on scholarship and publishing, we decided to ask her a few questions.
What is the ‘Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory’?
Anna Sircova: ZTPI is a questionnaire that measures different aspects of how people perceive time in their lives and how they are oriented when they make a decision. Is it their past, present, or future or the mix of all those that play the biggest role when they decide for example, what type of a car they are going to buy. Someone might get a blue Fiat because it reminds them of good old times when their parents had a similar car and brings those positive moments back to them. Someone else would buy the same blue Fiat, but because they don’t want to be reminded of a brown Honda in which someone close to them had an accident. Somebody could get a red sports car because they enjoy the speed and rash of adrenalin that it often provides in the present moment. Others might go for an electric, a hybrid or even a bike because they are concerned with environmental impact, thinking for the future, most often for the future of their kids.
This is important because we all live in and with time, but we often don’t notice that. Due to various reasons, we can easily become overly oriented on the future, get stuck in the past, or live completely in the present moment. Such time biases are not always healthy; they can create anxiety, depression, burnout, or be grounds for various addictions, etc. ZTPI can help people to find out about their own time perspective and find their balance in it as well as enhance well-being and quality of life.
Your new paper studies how ZTPI time scales are used across 26 samples from 24 countries. What did you find?
AS: This is our first step in studying how different time perspectives are represented across different countries. We joined our efforts in order to see if these different time orientations exist across cultures and if there are any cultural similarities and differences. Before we could make any cross-cultural comparisons, we had to make sure that we are actually measuring the same phenomena across all the variety of cultures. In order to do so, we first had to establish the equivalence of the measure we are using, and that’s what this article is about. We didn’t want to end up comparing oranges with apples. Our overall result for this stage is that now we have a shorter ZTPI version that can be applied when comparing time perspectives across different countries and can be included in large comparative studies, like the European Social Survey, for example; however, we still advise using the full 56-item version for the in-country studies.
Who do you think could benefit from this research from outside of the academic community?
AS: That is a very good question! And a question every researcher should be asking him/herself on a daily basis. In general, time perspective research has found its application in therapy for people with traumatic events in their past and in business coaching helping people to “find time.” The cross-cultural aspect can be beneficial for people who relocate to a different country and have to adapt to the local cultural norms, which very often concern time. For example, in Scandinavia people are very punctual, plan things far ahead in the future, and stick to the plan. It can create tension for people who come from countries that have a more flexible attitude towards time, who live more in the present moment and thus speak a different “time language.”
I don’t know about this particular paper and its usage outside the academic community since it is very specific, technical and rather abstract. However, I’m currently on the lookout for different practical applications of this research. I’m learning how to talk to people outside academia about what my research is about. I was advised to look into the service design and design thinking and I really wish this was something we were taught at university! I’m a researcher with old-school academic training and it is challenging to “rewire” my brain and start to think from a different perspective. I don’t want my research to be too abstract, but usable and useful. I’m very open to dialogue and would be happy to hear more ideas, if people have any, on where and how this research can be applied.
Philip Zimbardo is a big name in the field of psychology, how did you get connected with him?
AS: I wrote him an email back in 2003 when I was working on my diploma project (in my fourth year out of a five-year program) at Moscow State University. I wanted to use the ZTPI in my study and I was hoping that someone had already made the adaptation of it into Russian. This turned out not to be the case, so I requested permission to do it and we coordinated all the steps that language and cultural adaptation of a test requires. In 2005, as a PhD student, I was running a seminar on time perspective and well-being and when Professor Zimbardo visited Moscow in 2006, he spent an evening with our group of young researchers, who by that time were coming from four different cities in Russia. About the same time some other language adaptations started to come up and it was very exciting to find out about each other through publications or random meetings at conferences. It was like finding long lost family members! In 2008, we had our first face-to-face meeting and from then on our collaborative project has really started and today the community keeps on growing. In 2012 we had our First International Conference on Time Perspective in Coimbra, Portugal with participants from more than 40 countries. It’s all just a big family and Professor Zimbardo is our grandfather.
Find out more about Sircova’s research on the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory, by reading her full article here.