A feeling for the future: how does agency in time metaphors relate to feelings?

J. Richmond, Clare Wilson, Joerg Zinken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most cultures have metaphors for time that involve movement, for example, ‘time passes’. Although time is objectively measured, it is subjectively understood, as we can perceive time as stationary, whereby we move towards future events, or we can perceive ourselves as stationary, with time moving past us and events moving towards us. This paper reports a series of studies that first examines whether people think about time in a metaphor-consistent manner (Study 1) and then explores the relationship between ‘time perspective’, level of perceived personal agency, and time representations (Study 2), the relationship between emotional experiences and time representation (Study 3), and whether this relationship is bidirectional by manipulating either emotional experiences (Study 4) or time representation (Study 5). Results provide bidirectional evidence for an ego-moving representation of time, with happiness eliciting more agentic control, and evidence for a time-moving passivity associated with emotional experiences of anxiety and depression. This bidirectional relationship suggests that our representation of time is malleable, and therefore, current emotional experiences may change through modification of time representations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)813-823
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


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