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Conversational Time Travel: Evidence of a Retrospective Bias in Real Life Conversations


Demiray, Burcu; Mehl, Matthias R; Martin, Mike (2018). Conversational Time Travel: Evidence of a Retrospective Bias in Real Life Conversations. Frontiers in Psychology, 9:2160.

Abstract

We examined mental time travel reflected onto individuals' utterances in real-life conversations using a naturalistic observation method: Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR, a portable audio recorder that periodically and unobtrusively records snippets of ambient sounds and speech). We introduced the term and examined, for the first time, how much individuals talked about their personal past versus personal future in real life. Study 1 included 9,010 sound files collected from 51 American adults who carried the EAR over 1 weekend and were recorded every 9 min for 50 s. Study 2 included 23,103 sound files from 33 young and 48 healthy older adults from Switzerland who carried the EAR for 4 days (2 weekdays and 1 weekend, counterbalanced). 30-s recordings occurred randomly throughout the day. We developed a new coding scheme for conversational time travel: We listened to all sound files and coded each file for whether the participant was talking or not. Those sound files that included participant speech were also coded in terms of their temporal focus (e.g., past, future, present, time-independent) and autobiographical nature (i.e., about the self, about others). We, first, validated our coding scheme using the text analysis tool, Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count. Next, we compared the percentages of past- and future-oriented utterances about the self (to tap onto conversational time travel). Results were consistent across all samples and showed that participants talked about their personal past two to three times as much as their personal future (i.e., retrospective bias). This is in contrast to research showing a prospective bias in thinking behavior, based on self-report and experience-sampling methods. Findings are discussed in relation to the social functions of recalling the personal past (e.g., sharing memories to bond with others, to update each other, to teach, to give advice) and to the directive functions of future-oriented thought (e.g., planning, decision making, goal setting that are more likely to happen privately in the mind). In sum, the retrospective bias in conversational time travel seems to be a functional and universal phenomenon across persons and across real-life situations.

Abstract

We examined mental time travel reflected onto individuals' utterances in real-life conversations using a naturalistic observation method: Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR, a portable audio recorder that periodically and unobtrusively records snippets of ambient sounds and speech). We introduced the term and examined, for the first time, how much individuals talked about their personal past versus personal future in real life. Study 1 included 9,010 sound files collected from 51 American adults who carried the EAR over 1 weekend and were recorded every 9 min for 50 s. Study 2 included 23,103 sound files from 33 young and 48 healthy older adults from Switzerland who carried the EAR for 4 days (2 weekdays and 1 weekend, counterbalanced). 30-s recordings occurred randomly throughout the day. We developed a new coding scheme for conversational time travel: We listened to all sound files and coded each file for whether the participant was talking or not. Those sound files that included participant speech were also coded in terms of their temporal focus (e.g., past, future, present, time-independent) and autobiographical nature (i.e., about the self, about others). We, first, validated our coding scheme using the text analysis tool, Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count. Next, we compared the percentages of past- and future-oriented utterances about the self (to tap onto conversational time travel). Results were consistent across all samples and showed that participants talked about their personal past two to three times as much as their personal future (i.e., retrospective bias). This is in contrast to research showing a prospective bias in thinking behavior, based on self-report and experience-sampling methods. Findings are discussed in relation to the social functions of recalling the personal past (e.g., sharing memories to bond with others, to update each other, to teach, to give advice) and to the directive functions of future-oriented thought (e.g., planning, decision making, goal setting that are more likely to happen privately in the mind). In sum, the retrospective bias in conversational time travel seems to be a functional and universal phenomenon across persons and across real-life situations.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
08 Research Priority Programs > Dynamics of Healthy Aging
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Language:English
Date:2018
Deposited On:03 Dec 2018 16:14
Last Modified:03 Dec 2018 16:14
Publisher:Frontiers Research Foundation
ISSN:1664-1078
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02160
PubMed ID:30483183
Project Information:
  • : FunderUniversity of Zurich, Forschungskredit
  • : Grant IDK-63213-03-01
  • : Project Title
  • : FunderNational Institute of Health
  • : Grant IDR03CA137975
  • : Project Title

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