Future time perspective as a motivational variable: Content and extension of future goals affect the quantity and quality of motivation


 Willy Lens, Department of Psychology, University of Leuven, Tiensestraat 102, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium. (E-mail: willy.lens@psy.kuleuven.be)


In the first part we briefly discuss the concept of future time perspective (FTP) as a cognitive-motivational construct. By setting goals in the rather near or more distant future, human beings develop their individual FTP that can be characterized by its content (i.e., what people are striving for) and extension or depth (i.e. how far into the future individuals set their goals). Individual differences in the content and extension of the FTP have motivational consequences. In the second part we discuss our own empirical studies showing that not only does the number of future goals matter, but even more so their motivational content. Finally we will report empirical data on the correlates of present and future temporal orientations among adolescents and emerging adults in Europe, South Africa and Latin America. These empirical studies are based on Future Time Perspective Theory, Expectancy*Value Theory and Self-determination Theory.

The main purpose of this article is to review our theoretical and empirical research on future time perspective (FTP) as a cognitive-motivational construct. In the first section we describe how in our conceptualization and operationalization individual differences in the length and the content of FTP result from goal setting in the near and/or more distant future, and why these differences have motivational consequences. In the second section, we will examine empirical data on the correlates of present and future temporal orientations among adolescents and emerging adults in Europe, South Africa, and Latin America. We argue how goal content affects the quality of motivation. Present motivation that derives from future goals is by definition indeed extrinsic motivation, but not all types of extrinsic motivation are low-quality motivations. We will discuss our empirical work showing how important it is to take into account not only the extension of length of FTP, but certainly also the content of the goals that are pursued in the near and distant future. This goal content determines the quality of motivation. Then we discuss how important being future-oriented is for one's motivation. Finally, we propose further remarks on Future Time Perspective Theory.

Future time perspective theory

Future goals create a future time perspective

Psychological time perspective refers to the individually experienced personal past, present, and future. People live in the present but they also live to a certain degree with their past. From the present they can look back and take past experiences into account, or not. But they can also anticipate or foresee a more or less distant future. FTP is then the degree to which and the way in which the future is anticipated and integrated in the psychological present of an individual (Lewin, 1942). We conceptualize FTP as a cognitive-motivational personality characteristic that results from goal setting (Lens, 1986; Nuttin & Lens, 1985) and that has motivational consequences (de Bilde, Vansteenkiste, & Lens, 2011). Based on past and present experiences, people translate or concretize their originally vague and general cravings into more or less specific motivational goals, means-end structures, behavioral plans, and projects. For example, the basic need for self-realization can be specified in a desire to become an academically trained psychologist, a housefather, or a plumber, and the basic need for competence becomes the need to become an expert in statistics.

Such goals can be analyzed for their content (e.g., hunger, thirst, sex, affiliation, curiosity, achievement, power; intrinsic versus extrinsic goal contents) and their temporal localization. By definition, motivational goals are situated in the future. Even when one is motivated to maintain a present state of affairs, one is future oriented because one then wants to be or have in the future what one is or has already in the present. However, the temporal distances to goals can vary from very short (e.g., going for a walk this afternoon) to very long (e.g., preparing for an entrance examination for medical school in order to become a surgeon). Some goals can even extend beyond the individual lifetime (e.g., saving money for one's funeral; to go to heaven after life). Zimbardo and Boyd (2009) call this the transcendental time perspective. Formulating distant motivational goals and developing long range behavioral projects to achieve those goals creates a long or extended future time perspective. From this goal-setting perspective, FTP can be defined as the present anticipation of goals in the near and/or distant future. People with a rather short FTP set most of their goals in the near future, whereas people with a longer or deeper FTP formulate relatively more long-term goals. There are large individual differences in the extension or depth of future time perspective. For people with a short FTP, only the very near chronological future is part of the temporal world in which they live. They do not take into account what will come later. Others live with a long FTP, their present temporal life space extends into the very distant future. They have no difficulty with already reckoning with or being motivated by events or action-outcomes in the rather distant future (Lens, 1986; Nuttin & Lens, 1985; Seginer, 2009; Shirai, 1996).

Motivational consequences of differences in FTP

People with a long FTP experience a given chronological time interval into the future (e.g., 5 years from now) as psychologically shorter than people with a short FTP do. They subjectively experience the intermediate future as more near or proximal than individuals with a short FTP do (Lens & Moreas, 1994). FTP can also be conceived of as a disposition to ascribe a high valence to goals, even if they can only be reached in the more distant future. In general, the incentive value of a given reward or goal decreases as a function of the length of its temporal delay (Rachlin, 1995). This decrease is, however, less steep for individuals with a long FTP than for individuals with a short FTP. Because the psychological distance towards such delayed goals is shorter for individuals with a long FTP, the incentive value of chronologically distant but already anticipated goals will be higher, the longer the FTP is.

Individuals with a longer FTP can also more easily anticipate the implications of their present activities for the more distant future and elaborate longer behavioral plans or projects. As a consequence, the utility value of present actions (e.g., studying, saving money, refraining from risky sexual behavior, healthy behavior) increases (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Husman & Lens, 1999; Lens, Paixão, & Herrera, 2009). Utility value refers to the perceived instrumentality or the degree of perceived usefulness of the present task to attain present and future goals. Utility value thus is determined by “how well a task relates to current and future goals” (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002, p. 120). A task can acquire positive value for a person because it leads to the achievement of important future goals, even when the individual is not interested in the activity for its own sake, that is, when the person is not intrinsically motivated to do the task (Ryan & Deci, 2000). For example, students can be highly motivated for a given course (e.g., psycho-diagnostics) because that course is perceived as very useful for their future career as a psychologist. The future goal (even in the rather distant future) motivates present behavior. But people with a short FPT would not consider such delayed consequences of their present actions. Present-oriented youngsters “forget” to consider the important maladaptive future consequences of present actions such as educational drop-out, unsafe sex, and substance abuse. Seginer (2009, p. 9) refers to this definition and operationalization of individuals’ FTP as it is present in their motivational goals, aspirations, and fears as a “thematic approach” of FTP.

We can conclude that in this conceptualization, FTP is a cognitive-motivational variable for two reasons: first, individual differences in content (i.e., which goals one pursues) and the extension of FTP result from motivational goal setting and, second, they have motivational consequences. People with a longer FTP will, in general, be more motivated because they can more easily anticipate the future consequences of present behavior (higher instrumentality) and the incentive value of delayed goals will be higher, the longer the individual FTP (Husman & Shell, 2008). The following section contains summarized evidence from the authors’ empirical work on the motivational role and importance of the future time perspective.

Empirical evidence

Quantity and quality of motivation

Actions that are motivated by future goals are extrinsically motivated and it is often (e.g., Deci, 1975; Lepper & Greene, 1978) argued that extrinsic motivation is of a lower quality motivation than intrinsic motivation. But more recent empirical research, based on the Self-determination Theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 2000, 2002), has shown that different types of extrinsic motivation have different qualities. Not all types of extrinsic motivation are of a low quality. In a quantitative approach of motivation one would predict that one will be more motivated for an action that is instrumental for achieving more goals. This instrumentality of an action can be increased by increasing the number of goals that can be achieved through that action. One way to do so is to create a longer future time perspective. But the more recent qualitative approach of motivation in research based on the SDT (Deci & Ryan, 2000, 2002; Lens & Vansteenkiste, 2006) shows that the quality of motion depends on the content or type of goals (i.e., intrinsic versus extrinsic goals). Intrinsic future goals create a much better type of motivation than extrinsic future goals do. We now summarize a few of our studies validating this statement.

Goal content affects the quality of motivation

Vansteenkiste, Simons, Soenens, and Lens (2004b) found in a real-life experiment (physical education classes for pupils in grades 10–12) that framing an exercise activity in terms of future intrinsic goal-attainment (i.e., focusing on health and physical fitness) positively affected effort-expenditure, autonomous exercise motivation, performance, long-term persistence, and even sport club membership. Framing the same physical exercise activity in terms of future extrinsic goal-attainment (i.e., focusing on image and physical attractiveness) undermined those outcomes compared to a no-future goal control group.

Vansteenkiste, Simons, Lens, Soenens, Matos, and Lacante (2004a) created three goal content conditions: an intrinsic goal condition (i.e., a clean and healthy environment), an extrinsic goal condition (i.e., saving money), and a condition in which both the intrinsic and the extrinsic goals were presented. Based on a quantitative approach one would expect that the condition with two future goals is more motivating than the conditions with only one goal. But the SDT (Deci & Ryan, 2002) argues that one should also take the goal content into account: intrinsic goals (e.g., self-development, health, physical fitness, competence, community contributions, affiliation) create a much better quality of motivation than do extrinsic goals (e.g., financial success, power, status, physical attractiveness). In line with the SDT, the data showed indeed that a single intrinsic goal led to better performance and persistence than did either the single extrinsic goal or the double-goal framing condition. The future extrinsic goal condition was the least adaptive. The positive effects of the intrinsic versus the double goal framing on performance and persistence were fully mediated by participants’ task-orientation, that is, by their motivation to master and fully understand the learning material. Similarly, the negative effect of the extrinsic goal compared with the double-goal framing on academic achievement was also mediated by the degree of task-orientation. In the single extrinsic goal condition the participants obtained lower achievement scores because they were less oriented towards mastering the learning material.

Vansteenkiste, Matos, Lens, and Soenens (2007) motivated high school students (grades 10–12) to learn about and exercise Tai Bo during physical education classes by experimentally inducing an intrinsic goal (i.e., doing Tai Bo to remain physically fit and healthy) or an extrinsic goal (i.e., doing Tai Bo to remain physically appealing). In a third control condition, no future goal was induced. They found significant main effects of goal condition on the degree of task versus ego-involvement and level of test performance. The intrinsic goal condition was most optimal and the extrinsic goal condition the least optimal. Also in this study, the effect of goal content on performance was fully mediated by the degree of being task versus ego-oriented during learning.

Do your best at school, it is so important for your future” is an expression used by many parents and teachers all over the world to motivate students. They then refer to the future importance or utility value of present school work to (extrinsically) motivate youngsters, but they do not refer to one or more specific goals in the future. Vansteenkiste et al. (2004b) experimentally tested the motivational effects of such a vague, content-less reference to the future. They experimentally induced four goal content conditions for grade 10–12 pupils, studying and exercising via Tai Bo during physical education classes: an intrinsic and an extrinsic goal condition (see above), a future content free condition (i.e., doing Tai Bo is important for your future). In a fourth control condition, no future goal was induced. It was again found that framing a physical exercise activity in terms of a future intrinsic goal had a positive effect on effort expenditure, high quality of motivation (i.e., the degree of being autonomously motivated) for exercising, performance, and long-term persistence. Framing the same physical exercises in terms of a future extrinsic goal undermined those outcomes compared with the no-future goal control condition. But, most importantly and unexpectedly (based on instrumentality theories of human motivation (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002)) no differences were found between the control condition and the future content-free condition. As far as these data show, referring to the future in general or not at all does not make a difference. To motivate students to learn and do well in the present one should refer to future intrinsic goals and certainly not to future extrinsic goals.

Vansteenkiste, Timmermans, Lens, Soenens and Van den Broeck (2008) experimentally tested two rival hypotheses concerning the positive motivational effects of pursuing intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) goals. The SDT (Deci & Ryan, 2002; Kasser & Ahuvia, 2002) predicts that pursuing intrinsic goals is always, everywhere, and for everybody better than pursuing extrinsic goals. This difference is explained by the fact that intrinsic goals satisfy and extrinsic goals frustrate the three innate basic psychological human needs proposed by the SDT: the need for autonomy, the need for competence and the need for relatedness/belongingness. But the match-perspective or fit-hypothesis (Pervin, 1968; Sagiv & Schwartz, 2000; Schneider, 1987) predicts that a match or fit between people's personal goal orientations and the goals that are emphasized or valued in the immediate environment is most adaptive. Pupils with either a dominant intrinsic goal orientation or a dominant extrinsic goal orientation were randomly placed in an experimentally created intrinsic or extrinsic goal condition. The match-perspective predicts a significant interaction between personal and situational goal orientation: intrinsic-intrinsic and extrinsic-extrinsic should be the most optimal combinations. But for none of the dependent measures (i.e., autonomous motivation, conceptual learning, rote learning) was the interaction significant. In line with the SDT all significant effects were main effects of the individual and the experimentally induced goal content, intrinsic goals being more adaptive than extrinsic goals.

FTP in different life domains

Studying FTP in close relation to the content of future goals is therefore very useful. Not only because the motivational implications of future goals depend on their content (intrinsic vs. extrinsic goals) but also because one's FTP may differ in different life domains, as shown in Herrera (Herrera, 2002, 2010; Lens, Herrera, & Lacante, 2004), Nuttin and Lens (1985), Peetsma (Peetsma, 2000; Peetsma & Van der Veen, 2011; Stouthard & Peetsma, 1999) and Seginer (2009).

Herrera (2010; see also Lens et al., 2009) analyzed the content of the FTP of students from different educational institutions (high schools, universities, technical institutions and academies) in Peru. Students’ goals were sampled using the Motivational Induction Method (MIM; Nuttin & Lens, 1985). She found that the most frequently expressed goals were about self-realization in general (between 23 and 30%). Due to the fact that most of the participants were adolescents or emerging adults, these results were expected. Most of the other goals were related to the educational domain. This is of course also not surprising, because these youngsters have to face the developmental task of a transition from secondary school to different types of post-secondary education, and further on to the world of work and starting a family.

University students expressed many more goals related to finishing university studies successfully (19.56%) than did the other groups. Students in Academies (a 1-year post-secondary education preparing students to take the university entrance examination) do not score high for this category (7.25%), they instead are still much more concerned about a successful entrance examination (18.59%). And this seems to limit their future time perspective. For high school students, who are further away still from post-secondary education, this percentage is much lower (6.83%). As expected, only students who were already studying in technical institutions reported answers in the category “successfully finish my technical education” (14.01%). Unexpectedly, secondary school students referred more often to successfully finishing a university education (8.22%) than to their intention of taking the entrance examination. As expected, students in Technical Institutions mentioned more often the employment category (5.47%) than the students who belong to more academic educational settings. The family domain, which had very low frequencies in all four groups, is more frequently considered in terms of the extensive family in which they presently live than to the nuclear family they will start themselves in the future.

Paixão (1996), also using the MIM (Nuttin & Lens, 1985), found a very similar pattern of results in a group of Portuguese adolescents. Also in this group of students, girls, who were more future oriented, had more self- and self-realization goals, whereas boys had more immediate goals concerning their intended actions, namely the possession of material goods and free time activities. The differences in goal content between adolescents who were good students and adolescents with low academic achievement were similar to those just mentioned. According to these results, future goals very often direct youngsters’ behavior. However, previous studies have also shown that there can be a big gap between goals or intended behavior and actual actions (Herrera, 2002; Lens et al., 2004). These empirical data showed that many adolescents in Peru do not enact their motivational goals or intentions to continue their post-secondary education. Probably, besides their socio-economic circumstances, some personal characteristics prevent them from doing so.

Otto and Grobler (2002) used the Future Time Perspective Questionnaire of Stouthard and Peetsma (1999) to measure individuals’ short and long term future time perspectives in four important life domains: education and career; social relations, personal development, and leisure time. They analyzed how these different aspects of FTP relate to health behavior (i.e., the amount or frequency of health enhancing or health impeding behaviors, attitudes towards health related behaviors, and knowledge of factors enhancing or impeding health; Steptoe, Wardle, Pollard, Canaan, & Davies, 1996). But these authors found an inconsistent pattern of mostly nonsignificant associations.

Extension of FTP affects the quantity of motivation

Developing a long FTP by formulating important, realistic (intrinsic) future goals will foster present motivational striving via the perceived (shorter) psychological distance of future goals and via the perceived (higher) instrumentality of the present for the future (De Volder & Lens, 1982). In fact, in a sample of 101 male and female managers in several private and public organizations in the Central Region of Portugal, participants with a longer FTP (as measured using the MIM) experienced their personal projects as more important and more congruent with their personal values (Paixão, 1996; see also Lens et al., 2009). In this group, FTP extension was also a positive and significant predictor of work satisfaction. In two samples of students attending 9th and 12th grade in the Central Region of Portugal, Paixão and Silva (2001) found an expected significant negative correlation between the extension of FTP and the need to collect further educational and occupational information among 12th grade students. These students also reported a significantly lower number of goal objects than their 9th grade colleagues. This has certainly to do with the specific career development tasks in each group: vocational exploration tasks (predominant among the 9th graders) presuppose a higher number of cognitive and affective connections with significant interaction contexts than the vocational tasks that are characteristic of a group of participants that is about to complete their secondary education. As to the motivational profiles, both time content and time extension were very similar in both group of students and they reveal a predominance of the percentage of goal objects located in the distant future.

The problem with many youngsters, however, is that they live with a rather short FTP, which makes it difficult for them to take the future into account in the present (Creten, Lens, & Simons, 2001). Data from 2210 Latin American high school students, specifically from Peru and Costa Rica (Herrera & Lens, 2009), showed that very few goals were situated in the distant future. Most of their goals and aspirations were formulated for their present or future educational period. Girls from public and private institutions formulated most of their goals in the medium and long categories (57.43% and 57.11%, respectively). Boys from public institutions, in contrast, report mostly goals with a short future perspective (55.85%). Perhaps the lack of economic resources inhibits public school boys from formulating goals for the rather distant future. It is noteworthy also that, in the group of adolescents from Costa Rica (Latin America), the results show that 75.92% and 73.84% of the motivational aspirations of last year secondary school students (public and private, respectively) were situated in the near future. Only 1.76 and 2.43% of the goals could be located in the more distant future. The findings from both countries show that most of the youngsters did not develop a long and well-organized future time perspective. Future research should try to detect the reasons for this rather short-term future planning. In a similar vein, Paixão (1996) observed in a sample of 159 adolescents (8th grade) that students with higher academic achievement were more future oriented compared with their peers with lower achievements. They formulated significantly more motivational aspirations related to their future education and career, while the lower achieving group expressed more motivational aspirations concerning the realization of more immediate tasks.

Time orientation: The importance of being future-oriented

As said before, people live in the present, but their present life space incorporates elements from their past and their anticipated future. The concept of time orientation (De Volder, 1979) refers to one's dominant life period. For some people their past is the most important part of their life space. They are past-oriented. They define themselves in terms of who they were and what they did in the past. For other people, the here and now is the most important. They are present-oriented. Their past and future are a relatively small part of their present life space. Future-oriented people live in the present, with their past, but the present is experienced as in the service of the future. The future is where things will happen and be realized. Most people integrate their past, present, and future in their present life space, but they are predominantly oriented towards the past, the present or future as their dominant life time interval. Zimbardo and Boyd (1999) developed a questionnaire to measure people's time orientation. The original Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999) has five subscales: past-positive, past-negative, present-fatalistic, present-hedonic and future. Boyd and Zimbardo (1997) developed a scale to measure the transcendental FTP. Their future scale measures to what degree people are in general future-oriented without specifying any content or extension of that future. The past-scales assess to what extent people experience their past as being positive or negative. The present-scales measure to what degree people are present oriented for hedonic reasons or because they are fatalistic about their impact on their future. Keough, Zimbardo, and Boyd (1999) studied the role of time orientation as a predictor of unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and substance abuse. As expected, being predominantly present-oriented was found to be a positive predictor and being future-oriented a negative predictor of unhealthy behavior. In South Africa, Grobler and her collaborators assessed youngsters’ time orientations as predictors of educational attitudes and risky sexual behaviors.

Pieterse and Grobler (2005) assessed present and future orientations using the Zimbardo questionnaire. They found that future orientation was a significant positive and that present orientation (combining present-hedonic and -fatalistic) was a significant negative predictor of career maturity (more specifically its subscales self-information, career information, integration of self- and career information, career planning and decision-taking) in grade 11 and 12 boys and girls in previously advantaged schools, transition schools and previously disadvantaged black schools in South Africa. Career maturity was measured using Langley's Career Development Questionnaire (Langley, Du Toit, & Herbst, 1992).

Kritzas and Grobler (2007) found that future orientation (measured using the Zimbardo questionnaire) was a positive predictor of all subscales of the Learning and Study Strategy Inventory (LASSI) (except for the use of test strategies; Weinstein, Palmer, & Schulte, 1987) among black, white, and colored 12th grade boys and girls in South Africa. The more students were future oriented, the more positive their attitude towards schooling, the more motivated they were for school work, the less their anxiety, and the higher their scores for time management.

Remaining in the academic domain, and in a sample of 277 Portuguese college students, Ortuño and Paixão (2010), using a validated Portuguese version of the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI; Ortuño & Gamboa, 2009), found that the group of students with a lower grade point average (GPA) were also those who scored higher on the present-fatalistic scale and lower on the future scale, in contrast with the students with a higher GPA, who scored higher on the future scale and lower on the present-fatalistic scale. Similarly, considering the number of failed courses, those students who did not fail any courses scored higher on the future scale, while students with the highest number of failed courses scored higher on the present-fatalistic scale. Thus, in line with numerous previous studies, future orientation appears to be positively related to academic performance, whereas a present-fatalistic orientation seems to be negatively related to academic achievement.

Abousselam (2005) studied the predictive value of FTP for risky sexual behavior among male and female 12th grade students in South Africa. They came from different language groups or cultures (English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Setswana, Sotho, and Tsonga). FTP was measured using the Zimbardo Future Time Perspective scale (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999). Risky sexual behavior was measured using the Perceptions of HIV/AIDS Risk Survey (Moore & Rosenthal, 1991). Akande (1997) adapted this Australian survey for use in South Africa. The survey has three subscales (i.e., attitude, knowledge, and behavior), but Abousselam measured only how often participants engaged in vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex, and withdrawal with a regular and/or casual partner. If participants engaged in any of the activities, they had to indicate their condom use (never, seldom, or always). Future orientation was found to be a significant negative predictor of risky sexual behavior. The more these adolescents were future oriented, the less they engaged in risky sexual behavior.

Luyckx, Lens, Smits, and Goossens (2010) examined whether emerging adults (college students) develop their FTP and their personalized identity in tandem by using a short-term (4 months) longitudinal dataset. Time perspective was assessed using the Zimbardo scales for present-hedonistic, present-fatalistic, and future orientation (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999). Identity styles (i.e., information-oriented, normative, and diffuse-avoidant) and commitment were measured using the Identity Style Inventory, Version 4 (Smits, Berzonsky, Soenens, Luyckx, Goossens, Kunnen, & Bosma, 2008). Using cross-legged structural equation modeling, empirical evidence was found for a reciprocal model with identity formation and time perspective mutually reinforcing one another across time. FTP was positively related to identity commitment and the information-oriented style at the two measurement points and these two sets of variables were reciprocally related over time. The same holds for a present-fatalistic time perspective and a diffuse-avoidant style. FTP was negatively related to the diffuse-avoidant style at time 1 and 2, and FTP at time 1 negatively predicted the diffuse-avoidant style at time 2. The present-hedonistic time perspective negatively predicted the normative style over time. Commitment at time 1 negatively predicted the present-hedonistic score at time 2. The diffuse-avoidant style was positively related to the present-hedonistic style on two occasions. At both measurement points the present-fatalistic perspective was negatively related to the information-oriented style and identity commitment, and the FTP was positively related to the normative style. Normative-oriented college students seem to develop a future-orientation, probably because that is what parents and teachers expect them to do at that age.

de Bilde et al. (2011) demonstrated that being future oriented is positively associated with the use of several adaptive self-regulatory study strategies (e.g., a more positive attitude towards schooling and greater persistence in times of difficulties), while the hedonistic and fatalistic present orientations are not or are negatively correlated with learning outcomes. Students who are more future-oriented also seem to be better able to manage and plan their study time and to stay more focused on the task at hand. They were found to cognitively process the learning material (i.e., selecting main ideas of a text) more deeply. This study also analyzed the association between time perspective and motivational regulations in terms of SDT (Deci & Ryan, 2002). Future orientation was unrelated to external regulation and, as expected, positively related to identified regulation. It was, however, also positively associated with introjected regulation and intrinsic motivation. Present-hedonism was positively associated with introjected and identified regulation, and negatively associated with intrinsic motivation. Present-fatalism was unrelated to any of the types of motivation/behavioral regulation. The positive association between future orientation and introjected regulation suggests that taking the future consequences of present behavior into account creates inner pressure and tension. The zero correlation between future orientation and external regulation implies that being future oriented is not related to all kinds of extrinsic motivation. The unexpected significant correlation between future orientation and intrinsic motivation became nonsignificant when controlling for the high correlation (.57) between identified regulation and intrinsic motivation. The significant negative relation between present hedonism and intrinsic motivation is interesting, because both intrinsic motivation and present hedonism refer to immediate enjoyment. But enjoyment means probably something different in both cases (Ryan & Deci, 2001). In the hedonic approach, it refers to (sensorial) pleasure, happiness, and gratification. Intrinsic motivation, in contrast, leads to eudaimonic well-being, which results from satisfying one's basic need for competence.

The result of structural equation modeling showed that both identified and introjected regulation mediated the relation of future orientation with cognitive information processing. Students who are more future-oriented make more frequent use of information processing strategies because they find the learning material more personally useful and/or because they are more internally pressured to so. Unexpectedly, the positive association between being future oriented and a set of study strategies such as persistence, positive attitude, concentration, and time management was not mediated by identified regulation and was negatively mediated by introjected regulation. This suggests that, to the extent that future oriented students put themselves under pressure to achieve their future goals, they might get more easily distracted, are less efficacious in planning their time and are less positive about their schooling. This may be because introjected regulation is one kind of controlled motivation, and hence of a low(er) quality.


Our main goal was to discuss the concept of FTP as a cognitive-motivational personality characteristic. FTP does not only result from formulating goals for the present, the near or more distant future, but, even more importantly in our research, being oriented towards the future can have important motivational and behavioral consequences in the present. Our empirical studies show, however, that it is not enough to measure the degree of being future-oriented and compare it with the past (positive and negative) and present orientation, as is done in most studies using the ZTPI (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999). In ongoing research with the ZTPI we go one step further than just measuring past, present, and future orientation, we look for clusters of people differing in how they combine the different temporal orientations. More importantly, however, we have shown that the length or depth of the individual FTP is motivationally relevant. We want to know not only to what extent people are future-oriented, we also measure how far into the future their goals and concerns reach. The longer one's FTP, the shorter the psychological distance towards the more or less distant moments in the future, and the easier it is to foresee future consequences of present behaviors. It is quite evident that not being able to anticipate and take into account one's future is positively related to maladaptive behavior such as delinquency, unsafe sex, substance abuse, and other unhealthy behaviors.

Based on empirical studies, we also argued that, not only the extension or depth of one's FTP or degree of being future (rather than present) oriented matters, but also its content. As predicted by expectancy-value theories of motivation, a longer future time perspective, created by more distant goals, increases the strength of the instrumental motivation to pursue those goals via present actions.

More recent empirical studies conducted in Europe, Latin-America (i.e., Peru and Costa Rica) and South Africa reaffirm the relevance of not only the temporal extension, but also the content of future goals and how they are related to more immediate sub-goals. Future goals can have a positive valence and instigate approach-behavior (e.g., to be successful in my career), but they can also be negative in the sense that one is motivated to avoid them (e.g., not to fail in my career). This distinction is analogous to Markus’ distinction between positive and negative possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986). The ZTPI measures a positive and a negative orientation to the past, but fails to make this distinction when measuring present and future-orientations. As predicted by the SDT, intrinsic goals are more adaptive than extrinsic goals. The content of the future goals affects the quality of the motivation to achieve those goals. This was shown in empirical studies in educational psychology and health psychology. Future research should also look at the congruence (or not) between the content of more immediate present sub-goals or means and future end-goals. For example, SDT research should look at the motivational consequences of pursuing an intrinsic (extrinsic) sub-goal as a means towards a future intrinsic or extrinsic goal. Current SDT research totally neglects the instrumental value of more immediate goals for more distal goals. The same is true for Achievement Goal Theory (AGT; Elliot & McGregor, 2001). AGT research assesses the present task and performance goals, but neglects the notion that those goals are instrumental for future goals. Education is about preparing youngsters for the future. Students have not only immediate goals, but also future goals. Their outlook on their individual future affects their present educational activities such as learning, performing, and career choices. More research should be done on how present goals are connected to future goals, and the particular content of those present and future goals matters (Husman & Shell, 2008; Simons, Dewitte, & Lens, 2004). The fact that many of the internationally assessed students (adolescents and emerging adults) show a rather short FTP and attach relatively high value to so-called extrinsic goals should instigate future research on how they can be motivated and supported to develop a long, realistic, meaningful, and well-structured FTP. Such research should be based on valid motivational theories such as the FTP Theory and the Expectancy*Value theory but, at the same time, elaborate other theories such as AGT and SDT by including the future dimension, next to the present.

Finally a few remarks about FTP Theory and suggestions for further research testing the ecological validity of the theory even more. Most of the research on the consequences of individual differences in the content and length of FTP has been done in Western cultures and with high school or university students as participants. Also the studies done in other cultures such as Japan (Shirai, 1996), South Africa (Kritzas & Grobler, 2007), and Peru and Costa Rica (Herrera & Lens, 2009), and referred to in this paper, had students as participants. More research is needed in non-Western cultures and with a broader range of participants with regard to age and level of education or profession. FTP Theory, as it is now, is based on a Western conceptualization of time, but it should be elaborated, taking into account other cultural conceptualizations of time also.

More attention should also be given to the impact of FTP in different life domains or life contexts. People are not only studying, working, or competing in sports. They are not only achievement-oriented, they are also active and quite often very much involved in other life domains such as leisure, social life, family life, etc. What are the effects of individual differences in the extension and the content of FTP when we look at goals directly related to such life domains? We should compare the impact of FTP in different life domains. For example, being future-oriented and having a long FTP may have less important consequences for leisure and social life than for educational and vocational activities.

The research by Paixão and her collaborators (Paixão & Silva, 2001) and Herrera (2002) proves that we need more research on the role of FTP at critical transition periods in life, as compared to its role during less critical and more stable life periods. For example how important is FTP during adolescence and emerging adulthood when important decisions concerning the educational and vocational development or even family life must be taken? Are differences in FTP more important for people who take such decisions in a very autonomous, individual way than for people who do it in a normative way (i.e., they do what their parents or other important role models tell them to do). The same type of research, extending the ecological validity of the FTP Theory, can be done when people are considering going, or have to go, into retirement, or when they think about moving from their house or apartment to a serviced flat or home for the elderly. Another important transition moment in life at which FTP can have important effects on motivation and well-being is when one becomes a widow(er) and may have to change important life plans. Potgieter (2003; Potgieter, Heyns, & Lens, 2011) showed how important it is for Alzheimer caregivers not to be totally involved with the daily routine, but to plan already for future life after the spouse is deceased.

Back in the 1970s Boniecki (1977, 1978) referred to the important role that a long FTP might have in preserving the natural resources and a healthy ecological environment. He suggested that one of the problems in that field is that many people have a short FTP and therefore cannot foresee the consequences of their present behavior in the (very) distant future. More research on this topic is needed.

Finally, as became evident from the research based on Future Time Perspective Theory and reviewed in this text, having a long and well constructed FTP has many adaptive consequences on motivation, health, and well-being. This implies that people should acquire such a long FTP. But much research is needed on how people with a short FTP or who are predominantly present- or past-oriented can be helped to develop such a long FTP or future-orientation.