The Time Paradox

103158064Philip Zimbardo is a psychology professor who is famous for a prison experiment at Stanford University in 1971 in which he randomly assigned students in roles of either prisoners or guards in a mock prison.

He then observed the changes in their behaviors as ordinary college students increasingly transformed into cruel guards during the experiment. Zimbardo recently published his latest book about time and our reactions about time with one of his old research partners, John Boyd. “The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time that will Change Your Life” is not only a book about time, but it is a road map to revise our approaches to time.There are three paradoxes about time: First, time is one of the most powerful influences on our thoughts, feelings and actions, yet we are usually totally unaware of the effect of time in our lives. Second, each specific attitude toward time — time perspective — is associated with numerous benefits, yet in excess each is associated with even greater costs.

Third, individual attitudes toward time are learned through personal experience, yet collectively attitudes toward time influence national destinies.

Social psychologists John Darley and Dan Batson investigated how individual Princeton seminary students behaved in preparation for giving a speech on the parable of the good Samaritan. The students were told they needed to present a speech at studio across campus and would be evaluated by their supervisors. They were also told that either, (a) He was already late for speech, or (b) he had plenty of time to get to the studio before the speech. Each student while walking to presentation studio encountered a person slumped and coughing in an alleyway, obviously in need of help. Unknown to the student, this person was an accomplice of the experimenters. As there were no other people nearby, the students are faced with a choice between helping a stranger in distress or passing him by to fulfill the obligation to give a speech. Note that the speech is about the importance of being a good Samaritan. The majority of students who believe they had plenty of time stopped and helped. Remarkably, 90 percent of students who are late passed him by. Darley and Batson’s seminal research demonstrates that time perspective changes people’s behavior.
In another study, Robert Levine and his research teams visited cities and measured walking speeds, clock accuracy and the tempo of basic business transactions, such as buying stamps at the post office. Using these metrics, Levine calculated the pace of life in dozens of cities around the world. Western European countries lead the world in the rapid pace of life, with Switzerland at the top of the list. Japan is also high on the index. Second world countries are found predominantly at the bottom of the list. Of the 31 countries measured, Mexico has the slowest pace of life. As this research shows, time perception might be a nationalistic or a regional characteristic.
Zimbardo and Boyd, in their book, say that people tend to develop and overuse a particular time perspective — for example, focusing on the future, the present or the past. Future oriented people tend to be more successful professionally and academically, eat well, exercise regularly and schedule preventive doctor’s exams. Individuals such as the late seminarians in the Darley and Batson study and individuals who live in fast-paced communities are likely to be future oriented and so are less willing to devote their time to altruistic pursuits.
In contrast, people who are predominantly present-oriented tend to be willing to help others but appear less willing or able to help themselves. In general present-oriented people are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, gamble and use drugs and alcohol than future-oriented people.
For some of the people whose primary time perspective is past, the past is filled with positive memories of family rituals, successes and pleasures. For others, the past is filled with negative memories, a museum of torments, failures and regrets.
These divergent attitudes toward time play dramatic roles in daily decisions because they become binding frames of reference.
This book is a must-read, a book that will help self-discovery.

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