Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

The Infernal Now: Linking Temporal Inefficacy to Cognitive Ability and Social Adjustment

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

The Infernal Now: Linking Temporal Inefficacy to Cognitive Ability and Social Adjustment

Article excerpt

In three studies with younger and older adults, we examined the con-elates of temporal inefficacy (TI), that is, discontent with the uncontrollability of the passage of time experienced as linear. Among young adults, high versus low TI was related to greater subjective salience of the present, but guided focus on either conception or death eliminated this relationship. Among older adults, higher TI was inversely related both to the capacity to engage in mental time travel - as assessed by an autobiographical recall task, suggesting that the salience of the present associated with TI reflects chronic difficulty in accessing past and future - and to working memory capacity, illustrating the pivotal role of cognitive resources in effective coping among older adults. Reflecting the perceived lack of control inherent to TI, higher Tl was linked to compensatory efforts to reassert personal control in other domains - specifically, a heightened tendency to personalize and overattribute meaning to random events, a greater expressed willingness to subordinate a spouse's well-being to one's own, and a callous, manipulative attitude toward other people in general. Finally, ? was inversely related to age, suggesting that maturation may include reconciling oneself to the existential limits imposed by linear time.

Keywords: time perspective, close relationships, aging, meaning making

Time is a fundamental, yet intrinsically !inobservable, dimension of human existence. Nevertheless, as McGrath and Tschan (2003) observed at the outset of their overview concerning the interface of time and social psychology, "most people in our culture take time for granted, in at least two senses: First, they usually do not pay much attention to it .... Second, they do not consider the nature of time or its measurement as problematic" (p. 13). In the present paper, we attempt to identify some of the characteristics of individuals who do pay attention to time and find its nature to be problematic, and we also explore the implications of such a preoccupation for sociocognitive adjustment. That is, we focus on what we shall refer to as temporal inefficacy, or discontent with perceived lack of control over the passage of time experienced as linear and unidirectional, which manifests as (1) a desire to escape time altogether when faced with its uncontrollability, and (2) a concurrent desire to reassert personal control by mentally "travelling" in time bidirectionally (i.e., into the past or the future).

Conceptualised in this way, temporal inefficacy, to the best of our knowledge, has yet to be addressed in the substantial empirical literature on time. Indeed, although McGrath and Tschan (2003, p. 37) asserted that "researchers have devoted considerable attention to ... feelings about the passage of time in general," they were simply referring to variations in the extent to which people experience the passage of time as fast or slow, not to perceptions and evaluations of the controllability of this process. Indeed, we found no analogue to temporal inefficacy among the array of time-related constructs identified by Shipp, Edwards, and Lambert (2009) in their recent overview. For example, these authors' own temporal focus measure concerns the extent to which people nonevaluatively direct their attention toward the past, present, or future. Temporal orientation (e.g., Holman & Silver, 1998; Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999) reflects a predominant focus on the past, present, or future. Temporal depth (Bluedorn, 2002) refers to the units that people assign to subjectively parsed spans such as the short-term, midterm, or long-term past or future. Time attitude (Nuttin, 1985) reflects evaluations of the future, the present, and the past considered as discrete units. In contrast to all of these, temporal inefficacy reflects an aversive reaction to the inexorable flow of future to present to past when time is experienced as linear. The concurrent desire to mentally travel backward or forward in time reflects not the valorization of the past or the future but simple resistance directed toward the fact that full experience of a given moment is restricted to a continuously shifting present. …

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