Thinking about Time: A Look at Time Perspective Theory (TPT)

Time is a concept that cuts across disciplines.

In the academic study of history, historians typically focus on the written record of humanity, which generally goes back to about 5000 years or so. Archeology studies the human past as well, but it focuses on so-called “pre-history” a time prior to 5000 years ago, while also focusing on human artefacts. Physics, on the other hand, studies time in a more abstract way, and includes it as one of the dimensions of reality. (The other three dimensions include the three dimensions of space in classical physics.)

But what about psychology?

It’s true that although time may exist outside the realm of human consciousness, it certainly may interact with the human mind. For example, on a day-to-day level, some individuals may get so involved in completing a task that they may “lose track of time” – a phenomenon that most of us have experienced. Additionally, certain drugs such has cannabis have been known to alter a user’s experience of time, making time seem to “slow down.”

Author and editor Brandy X. Lee, M.D., explains:

“We are all familiar with the three main time zones,” Lee writes: “The past, the present, and the future. In TPT, these time zones are divided into subsets: past positive and past negative, present hedonism and present fatalism, and future positive and future negative. When one of these time perspectives is weighed too heavily, we can lose out on what could happen in our future. This can cause us to be unsteady, unbalanced, or temporally biased.”

According to Lee, an individual’s perspective of time can be out of balance.

“Being out of balance in this way also shades the way we think, and negatively impacts our daily decision making,” Lee writes. “For instance, if you are stuck in a past negative experience, you might think that from now on everything that happens to you will be negative.” The author continues: “If you are out of balance in your future time perspective, constantly thinking and worrying about all of the things on your endless to-do list, you might forget or miss out on the everyday, wonderful things happening in your life and the lives of your loved ones in the here and now.”

Although its not part of TPT, in the mid-twentieth century the psychologist Albert Ellis, Ph.D. – one of the founders of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – a identified the irrational belief that people hold that the past is always better than the future, a type of “Golden Age” logical fallacy. So, time has been the subject of psychology for decades.

TPT is a model that allows use to look at our personal time in different ways, and it may help us to identify thinking about time that may be helpful or hurtful, depending on how we view time.


Lee, B. X. (2017). The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. St. Martin’s Press. New York, NY.

Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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