ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2023, Vol. 55 ›› Issue (3): 421-434.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2023.00421

• Special Issue on “Psychological Characteristics and Behaviors of Chinese People in Response to Crisis and Challenges” • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The breath of temporal information focus among Chinese people

JI Li-Jun1, WU Ying2, YANG Yiyin3   

  1. 1Department of Psychology, Queen’s University. Kingston K7L3N6, Canada;
    2School of Ethnology and Sociology, Minzu University of China, Beijing 100081, China;
    3Institute of Sociology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing 100732, China
  • Received:2021-03-31 Published:2023-03-25 Online:2022-12-22

Abstract: This paper reviews past research on temporal information focus and lay theories of change among Chinese people and discusses their theoretical and practical implications. Temporal information focus refers to the breadth of focus people direct to temporal information, pertaining to the past, present and future. People with a broader temporal information focus attend to a more extensive range of information along the temporal dimension. Past research has shown that, compared to North Americans, Chinese people attend more to the past, as well as the future, demonstrating a broader temporal information focus. Relative to North Americans, they judge the past as more relevant to the present, perceive the past and future to be closer to the present, and hold information pertaining to the distant past and future in a more accessible state within their minds.
Such broader temporal focus among Chinese people has important impacts on other psychological processes. For example, it contributes to Chinese individual’s greater sense of self-continuity over time. Self-continuity refers to the sense of perceiving oneself as a unity that transcends the present and extends to the past and future. With various approaches, research has demonstrated that Chinese participants have a greater sense of self-continuity across time, from the past to the present, and then to the future. In addition, Chinese participants also show a greater sense of self-continuity across generations, in that they tend to think they are the extension of their grandparents and parents, which will continue into their children and grandchildren.
Broader temporal focus among Chinese people may also contribute to their lay theories (or beliefs) of change - that is, their beliefs about how events develop over time. Attending to a broader range of temporal information may make it easy to identify changes over time. Relative to North Americans, Chinese people hold a more cyclical belief about change, as they expect events to change in a continuous manner, and such change can take place from one extreme to the other and vice versa (e.g., from good to bad, and then from bad to good). Such lay theories of change start to emerge in school-age children and increase with age. Such beliefs apply to predictions of other people’s behaviors, as well as predictions of one’s own experience (such as happiness throughout life). These predictions have impacts in real life (e.g., stock market predictions and decisions). They may also influence how people perceive and respond to adversity in real life. For example, Chinese participants tend to conceptualize suffering in both negative and positive terms. Thus, compared to North Americans, Chinese participants are more likely to see the positive aspects within negative experiences, and will consequently respond more positively to adverse life situations such as a pandemic. This paper considers potential factors contributing to the broader temporal information focus among Chinese people, proposes a cultural psychological model for temporal focus, and discusses fruitful directions for future research.

Key words: breadth of temporal information focus, temporal perception, self continuity, lay theories of change.