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Future Seems Closer than the Past

Fri, 2013-10-11 12:36 -- llancaster
How we see the past and future could have an impact on our own happiness.
Originally published: 
Oct 11 2013 - 12:30pm
Karin Heineman, ISTV Executive Producer

Sometimes the day seems to drag on and time can’t move fast enough. Other days, time seems to fly by and time gets away from us.

In general, people experience time as moving toward the future and away from the past. In a new study, social psychologists found that people see the distance of past or future events very differently and that difference, speculates one of the authors, could affect their overall happiness.

“So, a week from now people reported that they felt psychologically closer than a week ago even though it was the same objective amount of time in either direction,” said Eugene Caruso, social psychologist at the University of Chicago.

Caruso said, “One of the reasons why people perceive their future as being closer than the past is because they have the experience of movement toward the future.”

In a virtual reality study, participants moved forward along a street towards a fountain, and others moved backwards. Those who moved backwards reported that past events began to feel closer, even though the distance each traveled was the same.

“We think that the results of these studies may have some implications for psychological well-being,” said Caruso. These results are prompting researchers to look into future studies.

Caruso said, “We’re interested in seeing whether there might be some people who show the reverse effect, namely, who see the past as being closer than the future and whether that may have implications for things like depression.”

Caruso will also test people with cultural differences to see how time is perceived across cultural backgrounds. His past research suggests that Americans seems to place a higher value on future events while East Asians place more value on history and the past.

Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV. She has produced over 600 video news segments on science, technology, engineering and math in the past 13 years for Inside Science TV and its predecessor, Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science.

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Eugene Caruso, University of Chicago

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