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60-Second Mind

We Think the Future Is Closer Than the Past

A recent study finds that we might think of time as though we are literally moving through it. Christie Nicholson reports

When people talk about the past, they tend to lean slightly back. And if folks talk about things to come they tend to lean forward. Various studies have revealed those physical attitudes. Now a study finds that people usually experience time as if we are literally moving toward the future and away from the past.

Through surveys researchers first determined that subjects perceive future events as being closer than past events, even if the events are equidistant. Then the scientists had subjects experience a virtual reality where they were either walking towards a fountain or backwards away from it. And as they walked, the subjects had to estimate the distance of a specific date. The date they were given was either three weeks ago or three weeks in the future. The participants backing away from the fountain perceived the dates as being equidistant from the present. But those walking towards the fountain estimated the future date to be closer than the past date.

The researchers interpret the finding to mean that the future feels closer because it seems like we’re literally moving towards it. Gives new meaning to the phrase, “Looking forward to seeing you.”

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

 

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