Time & The Self

How do we think about and represent time? What effects do mental representations of time have on our motivation and behavior?

In my research on time and the self I am investigating how time matters for our representation of ourselves across time. When we think about who we are, we not only think about how we are right this moment, but also how we have been in the past and how we might be in the future. Thinking of favorable future selves might motivate people to self-improve. For example, feeling subjectively very close to one’s graduation can motivate students to work harder towards making it a successful graduation, than if the same point in time feels distant. In addition, we have found that positive implicit representations of the future self are linked to greater motivation to work towards a successful future self than less positive implicit representations.

Time also matters for our appraisal of anticipated behavior. Considering a temporally close or a temporally distant project can affect how this project is represented and can change the accuracy of people’s predictions about how soon this project will be finished. Thinking of an exercise in terms of minimal daily investments of time or larger monthly time investments can change people’s willingness to exercise.

We are currently investigating how another aspect of temporal perception might change people’s self-appraisal and their motivation to achieve successful desired selves. Specifically, we are interested in whether temporal landmarks (calendar events, such as holidays, one’s own birthday) create a sense of psychological separation from a future or past self.


  • Peetz, J., Jordan, C. & Wilson, A. E. (2013). Implicit appraisals of the self over time. Self and Identity ahead of print, 1-28.
  • Corcoran, K., & Peetz, J. (2013). Looking towards the past or the future: Regulatory focus determines the direction of temporal comparisons and motivational consequences. Self and Identity ahead of print, 1-19.
  • Peetz, J., & Wilson, A. (2013). The post-birthday world: Motivational and self-appraisal consequences of temporal landmarks. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 249-267.
  • Conway, P., & Peetz, J. (2012). When does feeling moral actually make you a better person? Conceptual abstraction moderates whether past moral deeds motivate consistency or compensatory behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 6, 907-919.
  • Caouette, J., Wohl, M., & Peetz, J. (2012). The influence of time on collective guilt: Future harm weighs heavier than harm already committed. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 363-371.
  • Peetz, J., Buehler, R., & Britten, K. (2011). Only minutes-a-day: Reframing exercise duration affects exercise intention and behavior. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 33, 118-127.
  • Peetz, J., Buehler, R., & Wilson, A. E. (2010). Planning for the near and distant future: How does temporal distance affect task completion predictions? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 709-720.
  • Peetz, J., Gunn, G., & Wilson, A. E. (2010). Crimes of the past: Defensive temporal distancing in the face of past in-group wrongdoing. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 598-611.
  • Buehler, R., Peetz, J., & Griffin, D. (2010). Finishing on time: When do predictions influence completion times? Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 111, 23-32.
  • Peetz, J., Wilson, A. E., & Strahan, E. J. (2009). So far away: The role of subjective temporal distance to future goals in motivation and behavior. Social Cognition, 27, 475-496.

    Sample Media coverage:

    Psychology Today 2013
    Psychology Today 2010

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