The Time Paradox – Interview mit Philip Zimbardo zu seinem neuen Buch

29Sep09

Vor einigen Monaten fragte der Spektrum Verlag an, ob ich Interesse hätte, Philip Zimbardo zu seinem demnächst erscheinenden Buch, The Time Paradox, zu interviewen. Angesichts der Tatsache, dass dies der Autor des wohl ersten Werkes ist, dass ich sowie fast jeder andere Psychologiestudent als Erstsemester in den Händen hält, ist dies eine Aufgabe, die ich überaus gerne annahm. Der Artikel zum Interview erschien in der Zeitschrift StudPsych und ist hier erhältlich (© Springer 2009).

Das Buch The Time Paradox von Philip Zimbado und John Boyd handelt von der Bedeutung der Zeit im Leben des Menschen. Die ersten acht Kapiteln enthalten einen Überblick über die Erkenntnisse aus den letzten 30 Jahren Forschung in dieser Domäne. Hier wird in anekdotischer Weise ein Themenfeld dargestellt, das sich weitgehend abseits vom Mainstream der Sozialpsychologie gebildet hat. Die Grunderkenntnis ist, dass jeder Mensch eine Orientierung in der Zeit besitzt. So machen wir uns über unsere Zukunft Gedanken, wir nutzen die Vergangenheit, um Entscheidungen zu treffen und manchmal leben wir einfach voll in der Gegenwart und sind im Hier und Jetzt. Das bemerkenswerte an unserer Orientierung in der Zeit ist, dass wir uns dieser selten bewusst sind. Zugleich hat sie jedoch nach Ansicht von Zimbardo und Boyd einen maßgeblichen Einfluss auf unser Fühlen, Denken und Handeln. Dies bezeichnen die Autoren als Paradox der Zeit.

Jeder Mensch nutzt seine zeitliche Orientierung Zeit unbewußt als Brille, durch die er die Welt wahrnimmt. Es sind somit die Perpektiven seiner Wahrnehmung in Bezug auf die Zeit, die Zimbardo und Boyd als Zeitperspektiven bezeichnen. Empirisch lassen sich hierbei sechs Zeitperspektiven unterscheiden. Neben den drei basalen Kategorien Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft konnten die Autoren mit Hilfe des Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory aufzeigen, dass weitere Verfeinerungen dieser Basisdimensionen existieren.  Wie stark ein Mensch dazu neigt, die einzelnen Perspektiven einzunehmen, ist stark unterschiedlich. Interssanterweise stehen diese Unterschiede oftmals mit einer Reihe von Erlebnis- und Verhaktensweisen zusammen. Es sei nur eines von vielen Beispielen genannt:  Eine mittlere bis starke Nutzung einer zukunftsorientierten Perspektive ist z. B. tendenziell eng mit Gewissenhaftigkeit sowie einem geringen Depressions-und Aggressionsniveau verknüpft.

Bei der Nutzung der Blickwinkel, die wir einnehmen, zeigt sich, dass die meisten Menschen dazu neigen, einige Perspektiven stärker zu nutzen als andere. Diese systematische Verzerrung in der Wahl der Perspektiven ist nach Auffassung der Autoren ein Hindernis zu persönlicher Entwicklung. So ist der zweite Teil des Buches konsequenterweise als Ratgeber verfasst.  Denn Zimbardo und Boyd treten mit dem Ziel auf, den Leser bei der Entwicklung einer optimalen Beziehung zur Zeitlichkeit zu unterstützen. So enthält das Buch eine Reihe von Übungen und Selbsterfassungsbögen, um die eigene Nutzung der Zeitperspektiven ins Bewußtsein zu heben und diese ggf. zu verändern.

Ich selbst habe das Buch mit Gewinn gelesen. Besonders der erste Teil des Buches ist in seiner erzählerischen Weise eine leichte Kost und ist inspirierend. Der Akademiker sollte hier keine wissenschaftliche Abhandlung erwarten. Es ist eher eine angenehme Urlaubs- oder Nachtlektüre. Als besonders eindrucksvoll empfand ich, ohne mir eine abschließende Meinung dazu gebildet zu haben, die Belege für den systematischen Zusammenhang zwischen Perspektiven und Persönlichkeitseigenschaften. Auch ist es spannend, einen Eindruck über die eigenen Zeitperspektiven zu gewinnen. Hierzu kann das o.g. Inventar online ausgefüllt werden.

Zimbardo Interview

Im Folgenden ist das komplette Interview vom 05.07.2009 abgedruckt. Der Audiomitschnitt des Interviews kann hier angehört werden.

MH: Welcome Phil, thank you very much that you found the time for this interview, as I know you are very busy. I heard you just came back from Aspen yesterday, spend one day at home in California now and tomorrow you come over to Europe to the European Congress of Psychology in Oslo. So, is it the case, that time is quite sparse in your life?

PZ: Yeah, Time moves very fast in my life, too fast for me.

MH: In my life as a student this is not so much the case. And there we have a difference when it comes to time and our relation to time between you and me. This already takes us straight to the contents of your new book The Time Paradox you wrote together with Dr. John Boyd. Could you maybe briefly explain what your new book is about and what the title means?

PZ: Okay, I will do that. I am Philip Zimbardo. I am a professor emeritus at Stanford University in the Psychology Department and emeritus means I am retired, but still working for no money. The Time Paradox is a book that has been incubating since 1972, right after I did the Stanford Prison Study, because the Stanford Prison Study made me very much aware of the complex role that time plays in our life. Because in that study time got distorted, so that a day felt like several days. In part because the prison went 24/7, different guardships came in every eight hours, the guards woke the prisoners up every few hours during the night, so the prisoners, their sleep patterns were messed up. And I was always on call, that I’d go to sleep and then they’d wake me up and say, you got to come and help a prisoner is having a breakdown. So it just made me aware of time. Then also, we had hidden microphones in the cells of the prisoners. And when we analyzed what they talked about when they were alone, almost everything they talked about was of the present. How bad the food was, the good guards, the bad guards, escape plans. And they almost never talked about their past or their future. And what that meant was, the image that the prisoners had of each other was a very negative one, because they never inquired what was the background of the students. They knew they were all college students, what were they going to do after the study was over. And all they knew about each other was the negatives that they saw, each student getting emotionally disturbed or acting like a zombie obeying all commands. And so I began to think about time in my own life, because it played a critical role, as I was born in poverty from a Sicilian background in which everyone lived in the present or the past. And that is a recipe for failure. And I was very much influenced by my teachers in the early grades, who pushed me towards the future, settings goals and sub goals, immediate goals and essentially I became a high achieving child and a high achieving adult. And so The Time Paradox is a book about the way each of us lives in multiple time zones and that we are often unaware of the powerful influence they desert on us. So The Time Paradox is the assertion, that one of the most powerful influences on all of our decisions and our actions is something that we are unaware of, the fact that we have a biased time perspective.

MH: So, you say that we all live in different time zones. That means we perceive the world through our own personal time perspective or set of perspectives. Could you give an example, what kind of time perspectives exist and how they influence our life?

PZ: In general the big three are past, present and future. But over the years I have developed a scale called the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI). And this scale which is highly reliably, demonstratively very valid. It is really demonstrated over several decades, where we kept altering the items and trying to increase the power of the test. And what the test finally reveals is that most people have six different time zones that they can live in. The obvious ones as I said, are past, present and future, but what we have uncovered is a refinement of these big three categories. So there are some people whenever they have to make a decision they make their decision based only on things in the immediate present: what it smells like, what it looks like, what it tastes like, what other people in the situation are doing, what their emotions are at that moment, what their biological urges are. Let me call those people present-oriented. But if they focus mostly on the pleasure, then we got to call them present-hedonist. Other people also live in the present, but they are present-fatalist. That they believe nothing I do makes a difference, my life is fated, whatever will be will be. And so the present-fatalist, they take very little joy in life. Other people in the same situation focus not at all on the present but on the past. They try to say: how is this situation now similar to what I experienced in the past. And there you can be past-positive or past-negative. Then you can focus on the good things in your life, the friends, the family, favorite birthday, the awards you won. Or you can be past-negative and for you the past is abuse, rejection and failure. And those are totally different ways to be stuck in the past. Now the future-oriented is usually people who are settings goals and as we said sub goals. When they have to make a decision they always begin by cost-benefit-analysis. What will it cost me, what will I gain? If the gain outweighs the cost, then I’ll do it. If the cost outweighs the gain then I don’t do it. But, there are some people who are focused on what we call the transcendental-future, that is, life begins after death. Some religions lead people to believe that this life that you are living now, your mortal life, is transient and you have to live a good life because the important thing is what happens after you die. After you give up your mortal body and you live a life in heaven or wherever. So your listeners can go online www.thetimeparadox.com and the scale is there. And you can take the scale and score and get a sense how you score on each of the six factors. Of course it’s in my book The Time Paradox. Not only the scale and how to score it, but obviously much, much more.

MH: So, what you are saying is, that people have those six different time perspectives, that you call present-oriented, past-oriented and so forth. When do people come about developing these perspectives, when in life does this happen? For example thinking about the experiments done by Walter Mischel ?

PZ: It is very interesting. We are all born present-hedonist, we are born, I think from evolution to seek pleasure and avoid pain. And so we are all present-oriented little bees. And over time, depending on our family, our culture, our social class, whether we live near the equator or not, we begin to develop both, a sense of the past and a sense of the present. So again, culture has a very big influence as has geography. The closer you live to the equator, where seasons never change, the more likely you are to always stay present oriented, it’s like you are living in paradise, you don’t plan for changes you don’t plan in the summer for the winter. You don’t put nuts away as squirrels do in the summer, knowing that there is going to be a winter without nuts. So, as you mentioned for example, in the study by Walter Mischel, he took four year old nursery school children and gave them a task. And when they succeeded he said you can have a marshmallow, but if you wait until I come back you can have two. If you like marshmallows you can eat it now, but if you really like marshmallows all you have to do is wait and you get two of the treats. Well it turns out that at the age of three no child waits, no child excepts that arrangement. They eat the marshmallow immediately. At the age of four, I don’t remember exactly but it’s about sixty percent can’t wait and forty percent wait, and as you get older more and more children wait. That is they learn to delay gratification. What Mischel found is, he went back fourteen years later, and the children who waited, the children who delayed gratification, were totally different in every aspect of their lives than the children who where impulsive. They scored many, many, many points higher on the Standard Achievement Test (SAT), they were better students in the school, they got in less trouble. So the argument is, learning to delay gratification is part of what it means to become future-oriented. And if you are future-oriented, you will succeed much more in school, you will succeed in business and succeed in life, because you do a cost-benefit-analysis, you do a causal analysis, you weigh your alternatives. And you discount things that have a short-term in gain in the pleasure in the present for a long-term more substantial gains. We have found that women for example tend to be more future-oriented than men, it’s more men live in the moment, they are more present-oriented. It varies with religion. Protestants are more future-oriented than Catholics everywhere in the world. And social class, middle class people are more future-oriented and lower class people are more present-oriented.

MH: So, does it makes a big difference for my life and they way I am whether I am future-oriented or not? And is there a configuration or set of time perspectives that is more favorable than other set?

PZ: It makes a huge difference. So the argument is that each of us has varying degrees or levels of those six time zones, positive and negative past, present-hedonistic, present-fatalistic, future-oriented or transcendental-future. It’s not all or none. We have some or a little bit or a lot of each of those. What John Boyd and I do in The Time Paradox, he is my co-author, we show that most people they develop a bias, that they overuse one of these and they underuse the others. So there are people who are future-oriented who never allow themselves to focus on the past or on the present. There are people who are present-oriented who never think about the future consequences of their behavior. And getting ahead of our story is, the main thing we do in this book, is we teach people how to develop a balance. Our mantra is, give up the bias and find a balance. That a biased time perspective in the long run is not healthy, it’s not in your best interest. But a balance, and a balance we found is being highly focused on the past-positive, moderately focused on a selective hedonism and moderately high but not extremely high on future. But always low on present-fatalism and low on past-negative. And in our book we say, well if you are future-oriented here is how to add more present to your life. If you are very present-oriented here is how to add more future. If you are past-oriented here is how to add more present and future. These time perspective zones are learned and therefore they can be modified.

MH: As you say, most of use tend to have a bias. We tend to overuse certain time-perspectives and underuse others. Concerning academics, say professors like you or students like me, is there something like a typical bias in our use of time perspectives?

PZ: Yes. Most students and most professors are future-oriented. The ones that succeed are. There are students that somehow get by being present-oriented, but we have found they always are in trouble, they always need extensions, they never get things done on time, they wait till the last minute to study and then if there is a party or some disruption, they go for it. And they are late for appointments, they don’t make reservations. They don’t arrange their lives in a reasonable pattern. That is by living for the moment, living for the day, they can have more fun than future-oriented people, but it’s more chaotic and more things are likely to go wrong.

MH: Your theory about time perspectives is quite a broad theory as it affects so many parts of life. How does it connect to certain fields of psychology, for example to the clinical field?

PZ: Well, it connects to many, many, many things as you say. For example the concept of achievement motivation does not exist unless you have the prior conception of future-orientation. The concept of guilt is the relationship between an awareness in the present of something you did in the past. So again you need time perspective factors in order to experience guilt. Much anxiety is concerns or worries about the uncertain future. So time perspective does fit within a clinical framework. For example, many soldiers around the world suffer from PTSD, a posttraumatic stress disorder. Essentially, their problems is they have one foot stuck in the mud of their negative past that they experienced. Because they have seen killings, they have killed, they have seen rape, many of them may have raped. They have done really bad things. And as long as they keep replaying those negative scenarios they will never get better. And the problem is that when they go to therapy, most therapy does not really help get better, it just keeps it from getting worse. So they develop a present fatalism, nothing they do really makes a difference. So we have started an interesting therapy in Maui Hawaii with veterans, I am working with a clinical psychologist named Dr. Richard Sword. And what we are doing is something called time metaphor therapy. We are telling these veterans, your problem is you have one foot stuck in the mud of the negative past, one foot stuck in the mud of the present fatalism and unless you make a decision to change your posture, to move the foot from the past-negative into future orientation and the foot from present-fatalism into present-hedonism, you cannot be helped. And what we have found in pilot studies is miracle cures. Veterans who have had PTSD for years are now functioning well, giving up their guilt, giving up anxiety. And so we hope to set up formal double blind clinical trials to see: Can you really change PTSD not with drugs but with time therapy?

MH: So there might be quite big implications from the theory you developed. What interests me is that this theory basically evolved aside from the mainstream of psychology. At least there was no broad reception within the literature as for example in textbooks. Where do you see the benefits if the theory of time perspectives finally finds this reception?

PZ. If you look at almost any introductory textbook there is not an index point called time perspective or time orientation. Interestingly, since space and time are the most critical dimensions of human existence, it is interesting that time and time perspectives has really not been studied by psychologists very much. And I am hoping that the Time Paradox book will stimulate thinking by psychologist as well as the general public, as it is really written for the general public as well as for academics. And also stimulate new research into this very interesting phenomenon. Now, you mentioned I am going to Oslo tomorrow to the European Congress of Psychology and there are dozen young researchers from around the world who will be presenting research using Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory and all of them are getting highly significant effects on many, many different dimensions: on conservation, on sustainability, on retirement, on rehabilitation. And I am so excited because I feel like grandfather and these are my children, my grand children, young researchers from I think 24 different countries are represented. We have a cross-cultural research group that we have started using the web. And the scale is now translated in two dozen different languages.

MH: Another question that is basically very down-to-earth and affecting every day life is: What does it mean in terms of time perspective when someone is chronically late and what does it tell you about me, when I am always upset with that?

PZ: It means that you are future-oriented and you are dealing with people who are past or present-oriented. For some people being punctual is seen as a positive character trait. So if you make an appointment and you are a future-oriented person, you are going to write it down in your book, you got an alert on your cell phone or on your computer, on your to-do list. And you are going to be not only on time you are probably going to be there a little early. And if that appointment is with a present-oriented person or a past-oriented person, the chances they are being on time are slim. They are less likely to be on time because time is not important for them. Also, on the way from the house to the appointment place they get distracted, they will meet somebody or look at the store window and see something interesting that captures their attention. So that a lot of conflict between people are conflicts between people who are living in different time zones and we are unaware of that. So if that person comes late you see them as irresponsible, you say: you wanted this job, the fact that you come late, I think less well of you. And the person says: What difference does it make? I am here, ask me a question. What difference is a few minutes? Now, culture also plays a role. Because if you are from a northern country you going to experience that most people from southern countries are more often late because they are much more often present-oriented. And this is true in Sicily. People from the north say that about people from the south. In many countries they call it colored people’s time or Mexican time. There is an interesting expression in Mexico which is: mañana is the busiest day of the year. Because everything is put off, mañana, we’ll do it tomorrow. And, in fact, if you are present-oriented, you typically don’t make reservations, and if you make them or appointments you do not write it down, so you will forget. Now we had this. Student at Stanford have to be in six experiments if they are in introductory psych and so we give them our scale and it’s sure enough, the college students at Stanford who are present-oriented come late to the appointment more often than not, forget it, miss the appointment more often than not. If you are future-oriented you start the assignment a week earlier than other students who are present-oriented. So even controlling for general intelligence, you have to be intelligent to get into Stanford, because they take 1600 out of 16000 that apply. So it is the top ten percent in America or in the world who apply. But even so, if you get in and you are very smart but you are present-oriented you are a different creature than if you are future-oriented.

MH: So now basically you spent 30 years doing research in that field. During that time, what has changed for you personally, as yopu more and more – I suppose – became aware of your own time perspectives?

PZ: This is a very good point, Mark. The first issue is you have to become aware of what is your own time perspective, where is your misbalance. Am I excessively future-oriented, am I excessively focused on the past-negative, am I too much present-hedonistic? And once you become aware of that you begin to realize that a lot of problems you have in life is because of that. So if you are excessively future-oriented as I am, as I have been – so I have been very successful as a student, successful in my career, I published fifty books and more than 300 articles, I taught heavily big classes of a thousand, I taught sometimes ten to twelve classes a year, but, I sacrificed friends and family and most of all if you are excessively future-oriented you sacrifice personal fun. As soon as you get one thing done you say what’s next on my list and start to work. If you are present-oriented you never get anything done because there is always something, you always go for what is fun rather than what is work. So, many of these people are very creative and they are great as stand-up comics. For example, the greatest Jazz musicians, they are great where they can improvise. But they are not good where they have to sit down and learn something, sit down and read a lot, sit down and write a lot. So for me what happened is, as I got older and as I began to study this time perspective I realized that I had to put balance in my life. I have to be less future-oriented, I had to be selectively present-hedonistic, meaning that as soon as I got something done I needed to reward myself. And the reward could be to get a massage, get a hot tub, meet a friend in a coffee shop, have a really, really wonderful dinner with my wife, just take time, make time! But then also to connect to my past and take time to send emails to relatives or send pictures or call old friends. And so I’ve never felt better having this balance of being moderately future-oriented as I am traveling around the world giving lectures and still writing books, but I take time for myself to enjoy the present. And I take time to really think about and explore my past. Because your past is where your identity is. Your past is your roots. It links you to your family and your line. The present is where you get energy. I mean you live your life in the present and that’s the energy to do things, to explore. And the future is the wings to try new things, to try different things.

MH: So basically. What we as students can take along today is that we tend to be biased towards a future perspective and maybe we should put away our wrist-watch every once in a while after work is done, and just enjoy. So, Phil I thank you very much for this interview. Thanks that you found the time. It has really been interesting.

PZ: You are welcome, it has been a pleasure. I hope that the students will go to the website www.thetimeparadox.com. There is also some of my articles as well as taking the scale, but also to buy The Time Paradox book, because I think that everybody who has read it really likes it, it’s well written and has lots of, lots of interesting information.

MH: That’s what I think. It is a really nice book and will be published in Germany within a few weeks.

PZ: I hope so, hope so. And also I should mention, the translator is a friend of mine, Karsten Petersen, and he is a brilliant translator. He translated my Lucifer Effect book and everybody who read both said that the German edition is better than the English edition.

MH: Okay, interesting. So, thank you very much again that you found the time for the interview. And have a good flight to Oslo tomorrow!

PZ: Thank you so much. Bye, Mark.

MH: Ciao, Phil.

Im Internet sind einige sehenswerte Vorträge von Zimbardo (u. a.) vorhanden, die in die Theory of Time Perspectives und verwandte Themen einführen:

Phil Zimbardo and Mark Heckmann

Philip Zimbardo, Mark Heckmann



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