Living in the Past, Present, and Future: Measuring Temporal Orientation With Language

Gregory Park, H. Andrew Schwartz, Maarten Sap, Margaret L. Kern, Evan Weingarten, Johannes C. Eichstaedt, Jonah Berger, David J. Stillwell, Michal Kosinski, Lyle H. Ungar, Martin E.P. Seligman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Temporal orientation refers to individual differences in the relative emphasis one places on the past, present, or future, and it is related to academic, financial, and health outcomes. We propose and evaluate a method for automatically measuring temporal orientation through language expressed on social media. Judges rated the temporal orientation of 4,302 social media messages. We trained a classifier based on these ratings, which could accurately predict the temporal orientation of new messages in a separate validation set (accuracy/mean sensitivity =.72; mean specificity =.77). We used the classifier to automatically classify 1.3 million messages written by 5,372 participants (50% female; ages 13–48). Finally, we tested whether individual differences in past, present, and future orientation differentially related to gender, age, Big Five personality, satisfaction with life, and depressive symptoms. Temporal orientations exhibit several expected correlations with age, gender, and Big Five personality. More future-oriented people were older, more likely to be female, more conscientious, less impulsive, less depressed, and more satisfied with life; present orientation showed the opposite pattern. Language-based assessments can complement and extend existing measures of temporal orientation, providing an alternative approach and additional insights into language and personality relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)270-280
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of personality
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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