Time Orientation & Health 1

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What is time orientation?

Time orientation is the tendency to be motivated by one temporal frame over others when making decisions.

It is most commonly viewed as being one of three temporal frames - past, present and future.

We naturally and non-consciously assign temporal categories to help add structure, order and meaning to the flow of our experiences.

If you favor one temporal frame over another when making decisions, the preferred temporal frame serves as a cognitive temporal bias that, with chronic use over time, becomes a trait-like tendency motivating behaviour (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999).

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Why is time orientation important for health?

Physical inactivity and unhealthy diet are major contributors to the obesity epidemic worldwide (WHO, 2015).

Obesity is a precursor to the development of a host of chronic diseases: CVD, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, arthritis.

Helath behaviours are the prototypical self-regulation task (Wagner & Heatherton, 2015).

Involve making intertemporal choices.

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How is time orientation related to health?

Time orientation/perspective is primarily linked to health via its associations with health behaviours.

1. Preventive health behaviours - E.g. cancer and diabetes screening, sunscreen use - increased future time-orientation

2. Health-promoting behaviours - E.g. healthy eating, exercise, stress management - increased future time-orientation

3. Health risky behaviours - E.g. Smoking, alcohol use, substance abuse - Increased present time-orientation, decreased future time-orientation

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Current methods & evidence

Hall, Fong & Sansone (2015) - In two studies, they examined the association between time perspective and health behaviours tendencies. In both studies, one involving undergraduate students (Study 1) and the other inolving community dwelling adults (Study 2), they found that a more future-oriented time perspective was associated with healthier behavioural tendencies. Study 2 additionally demonstrated that more future-oriented individuals had lower BMI and that the association between time perspective and BMI was mediated by health behaviour. Limitation - cross-sectional nature of the data. Precludes causal inference about the imapct of time perspective on health behaviour or BMI. 
Orbell & Haggar (2006) - In a field experiment, the time frame of occurrence of positive and negative consequences of taking part in a Type 2 diabetes screening program was manipulated. 210 adults (mean age = 53). Experimental design. Low-CFC individuals were more persuaded when positive consequences were short-term and negative consequences were long-term. The opposite was true of high-CFC individuals. The present findings suggest that careful emphasis of the short-term consequences in a health communication might increase motivation among low-CFC individuals. Limitation - not distinguished between the possibilities that participants selectively do not attend to information versus actively discounting information presented in a time frame that is incongruent with their typical decision-making style.

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