Time perspectives and the role of culture

The ISD approach assumes that the person is an active agent that plans and lets his life unfold within a limited span of time and action resources. The time perspective has several implications for the development of self or identity projects across the lifespan. It was assumed that time, similar to age, has no intrinsic explanatory power, for instance, for later developmental states such as cognitive decline (e.g. Brandtstiidter & Rothermund, 2003). Time is perceived as a limited resource over which individuals have only limited control. It becomes valuable when it is needed to manage current tasks in order to pursue desired life goals. Augustine made an effort to explain the mental activity of subjective time experience using three components (Augustine, 1913, p. 272). Three interwoven mental time experiences (metnoria, contuitus, expectatio) describe a central characteristic of ISD that pertains to processes of memory, observation/direct experience, and expectations. These processes have been discussed within the framework of contemporary psychological research on life reflection and in relation to critical events and the uncertainty of life (Staudinger & Gliick, 2011).

Life planning and life management in adulthood

Developmental gains or losses emerge in time and their weight in decisionmaking changes as individuals become older. Many of our daily plans have a limited horizon and pertain to a manageable time window. We plan our duties for the next days, the business and holidays for the next month. Some of the goals are distant and refer to retirement or the welfare of our children. Individuals pursue their goals until they are interrupted by unexpected restrictions or lose their interest because they are bored.

Are there any age differences in these common observations in adulthood? The concepts of a turning point in life (‘Lebenswende’, Jung, 1933), a ‘social clock’ (Neugarten & Hagestad, 1976), or the midlife crisis denote times of reorganization (internalized clocks) in midlife, when former priorities are subjected to change for many individuals. The need for time to slow down in one’s progress through life or to say goodbye to the illusion of having to compete with youth to take this adventure trip is, however, not so strongly tied to a very limited span of years that we must call it a normative crisis. There is probably too little awareness of the ‘Big Ben’ (before it is too late) to be indicative of a severe midlife crisis for most people, but it rather marks an insidious emotional experience in adulthood that is loosely correlated with age. In advanced age, for example, finding personal meaning in life has been argued to be the major developmental task (Erikson, Erikson, & Kivnick, 1986) and that we have grounds to worry because we cannot compensate for shortcomings and cannot get rid of the feelings of sorrow. Schopenhauer (1999/2017) assumed that, in the second half of life, needs and cognitions such as the search for a time out, having no pain, having a lot of worries, having comfort, and feeling secure become predominant in advanced age. ‘If, when I was young, the doorbell rang, I felt happy because I thought something would come. Now, if something is knocking at the door, I get a fright because I think: There it contesl’ Schopenhauer (1999/2017, p. 62).

The expected shortness of the remaining life time and age-related losses have been used to explain changes in coping strategies across the lifespan. Accommodative coping forms (Brandtstadter, 2009) or secondary control strategies (Heckhausen et al., 2010) such as flexible goal adjustment, downward comparison, or cognitive reappraisal enable individuals to keep their goals flexible throughout the second half of life. Despite inevitable threats, and under the pressure of novel demands, we adapt our standards and choose rather realistic, age-appropriate goals. The concept of developmental tasks (Havighurst, 1948), which emphasizes the emergence of specific life tasks or crises at different ages, can also be used as an example that the ageing self is characterized by a large degree of plasticity in identity projects. Life planning (e.g. goal contents, the processes of adjustment) is subjected to change and it remains a compelling challenge to better understand how the adaptive self-concept protects itself from damages and stabilizes the self-esteem.

Life review: Historical embeddedness and culture

Times of bereavement, celebration, or the end of the year remind us that human goals have a history: the process of life review (Butler, 1963; Staudinger, 2001) consists of memories that do not merely call back to mind several previous episodes of life. Life review also includes the reconsideration of previous experiences and their meanings by means of interpretation and re-evaluation. I do not want to treat the adaptive, self-esteem enhancing function of reminiscence now, but rather emphasize the part played by traditions (learning history, culture) in the shaping of our goals and interests. Although individuals often have to deal with novel challenges, they do not reinvent their coping strategies or redefine their values completely new. Indeed, they refer to prior internalized standards when they evaluate their actual situation.

According to the self-memory system model (Conway, Meares, & Standart, 2004), autobiographical memories are mental constructions comprising the working self as well as transitory and long-term memories. Goals, like other representations in human memory, are based on individuals’ earlier experiences. These knowledge structures are assumed to be essential for automatic selfregulation, for instance, when we ride a bike or make tea (Papies & Aarts, 2016).

Many of the decisions we make in life are linked to scripts and skills we have learned within a culture. Many developmental ideals that serve as the normative standards against which we compare whether or not or to which degree we have reached what we had wished are socially anchored. A characteristic of goals is that we evaluate them and their consequences as being positive or less desirable, with the corresponding emotions. When we struggle with obsolete social norms or defend traditional values, we are able to recognize this. The assumption that goals presuppose a memory system and are linked to culture (e.g. the social mediation of norms and goals) is essential for the understanding of development through intentions. Sometimes individuals become aware that they have been pursuing a goal for a long time (e.g. refusing to undergo retraining despite bad career prospects, having sympathy with a political party). Such examples make plausible how life plans depend on factors of biography or learning history.

The study of ISD: General courses and intraindividual changes

Before cross-sectional and longitudinal studies were established as frequently used empirical research methods to detect age differences across the lifespan, Charlotte Biihler (1933) studied the life courses of individuals. Using single biographies, she showed that individuals compensate for lost competencies (e.g. social position) and invest energy in new domains of life until losses in late life make compensation no longer successful. A comparison with the biological ageing curve revealed that the age-related decline in mental functions is clearly reduced. Later, this pattern was replicated with refined empirical methods in specific domains of cognitive or personality development as compared to biologically based losses of ageing (Horn & Cattell, 1967; Baltes, Lindenberger, & Staudinger, 2006).

The study of biographies can make a remarkable variability of concrete goals, preferences, or assumptions about the world evident through which the individual’s behaviour is influenced: some people are inclined to refine their skills to prepare Cevapi because they would like to see themselves as experts in Balkan cuisine.

Some biographies are characterized by competition and possibly use athletic performances for a paramount criterion of success. Some people recommend the study of Shakespeare’s plays as a mirror to life. What does this great variety mean for the study of ISD? One challenge that remains is whether one can conclude from single biographies to developmental regularities. Some would avoid this conclusion in order to grant uniqueness to each individual. Since the beginnings of empirical investigation into lifespan development, many prospective and retrospective research methods have been developed to detect short-term and long-term changes. Some research branches that are more interested in rule-bound processes of development propose that it would be useful to combine empirical research methods on interpersonal differences and intraindividual change (see Box 1.2).

As may have become evident by now, the study of ISD is a complex task that pertains to several developmental perspectives. One is the period of time in which developmental changes become evident. The focus of studies can vary between short-term fluctuations of goals and long-term changes over years. In addition, it is important to specify whether intentions can contribute to changes in other domains and, for example, influence the development of physical health during the next years. Third, the intentions in themselves can be of interest (e.g. the development of


It has been argued that interpersonal differences in mental properties should be paid more attention when long-term development is the aim of the study. For example, a within-person-centred approach (see Diehl & Hooker, 2013; Nesselroade, 1990) has been proposed as a promising way for the study of ISD. Such an approach considers not only remarkable differences among subjects in several personality domains (e.g. the degree of extraversion, curiosity), but also in the daily fluctuation of mood, attitudes towards others, or in making decisions.

A study with middle and older adults by Hooker and colleagues (2013) provided evidence for the relationship between short-term processes (daily progress in pursuing social and health goals within 100 days) and more stable personality traits. They found that those high in conscientiousness and extraversion but low in neuroticism made more progress in health and social goals. In addition, less goal progress was reported on days when participants noted stressful events. This study used an intensive, repeated-measurement approach to measure changes in goal pursuit. From the perspective of ISD, it would be interesting to see whether daily progress (or setbacks) in goal pursuit also has the potential to influence the usually more stable dispositions. This could be true if people were to come to conclusions about what should be done to shape their development in a particular direction.

specific goals in adulthood). Fourth, a central topic of research asks whether developmental changes are age-normative or characteristic of specific groups or single individuals. All of these aspects promise interesting insights in the function of ISD and related mental processes and will still engage our attention in later chapters in which I will provide evidence on how individuals select and pursue life goals.

ISD, time, and culture

Careful investigation of the part that intentions play in human development (what can they cause and how do they function?) requires that many individual and social aspects should be considered. Because there is no agreement as to what intentions can and what ‘positive development’ actually means, there is no lean theory or fact sheet that can simply be applied or learned by rote. ISD denotes a paradigm of human development that treats part of future (e.g. goals, ideal states) in mind and includes a bundle of basic assumptions.

One assumption is that individuals construe representations of themselves and their (social) environment through actions and through the consequences of their actions (Brandtstiidter, 2006). Actions include intentions, which are part of a cognitive-motivational system that connects anticipations (e.g. desired states: to make a career in the next years) with the accompanying experiences of intended consequences and non-intended chance encounters. These will be integrated in the self-concept to a greater or lesser degree. Thus, intentions like concrete goals have a time extension that presupposes a learning history, for example, as to which means is appropriate to pursue a specific goal successfully or which goals one likes at all. Figure 1.2 depicts the interconnectedness among the intentional self, memory processes, and the cultural context.


FIGURE 1.2 The intentional self as co-producer of culture and development.

Culture sets up a horizon of expectations (e.g. cultural norms and values), but also provides developmental assets. Cultural institutions and instrumental support (educational institutions, healthcare systems, medical and technical progress) do not only secure survival of passive organisms. They can serve as a means that enables individuals to influence their own development intentionally. Intervention programs with (older) adults (cognitive and health-related trainings) in many studies have provided evidence that the negative impact of age-related losses or critical life events can be compensated for (Kruse, 2007). On the other hand, culture itself depends on the interplay of anticipation, observation, and memory. According to some central assumptions of ISD (Brandtstadter, 2006), culture is also a result of acting individuals: they use the gains in technical skill and try to improve their own situation, and perhaps that of their groups. Developmental outcomes can be compared to personal standards and guide intentional activity.

In sum, the intentional self has a history (prior experiences), through which it regulates its own development by shaping its cultural ecology, at least in part. It can respond to cultural norms and social expectations in a variety of ways, however, how exactly intentions and biography interact remains an open question. Before I begin to illustrate the creative developmental potential of individuals, however, I will focus on contemporary theoretical avenues to human development that also refer to intentions, but use a different focus. If we really want to treat intentions as relevant for developmental paths, we should not do so without some alternative models.

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