When does the present end – and the future begin? [study]

Questions along the lines of “When does the future start?” have perplexed scholars for . . . some time. For example, do people tend to think that The Future begins immediately* after The Present, or is its arrival more ‘smeared out’? [see illustrations]

Steps towards answering this puzzle have recently been taken by Professor Hal E. Hershfield (Anderson School of Management, University of California, Los Angeles) and Professor Sam J. Maglio (University of Toronto Scarborough & Rotman School of Management) – who ask (in a new paper for the Journal of Experimental Psychology.) “When Does the Present End and the Future Begin?”

“The current research was [thus] borne out of conversations surrounding decisions that are made over time, and the realization that although there is no shortage of work that has focused on these topics, the basic question of when the present gives rise to the future had not yet been explored.”

Across six experimental studies which used an Amazon Mechanical Turk pool of participants (each paid $30), the investigators found that :

“[Thus,] people are capable of thinking about the division between the present and the future, and where they draw it provides a compelling glimpse into how they navigate and decide through time.”

See : Hershfield, H. E., & Maglio, S. J. (2019). When does the present end and the future begin? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication (a full copy of which, at the time of writing, was found here).

* BONUS assignment [optional] How fast is ‘immediately’ ?

Also see: Time flies – but how quickly?

Comments 2

  • The paper says each participant was paid $0.30 not $30.00

  • Thanks Eric . . .
    Oddly, the paper actually says ” $.30 ” which probably led to the confusion. But 30 cents seems very little encouragement for participants, no? Perhaps it’s a typo? Maybe it should read ” $3 “. Ed.

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