Drug Education News

News and views from the Drug Education Forum

How young people think about time

Further to yesterday’s post about Philip Zimbardo’s thoughts on how people’s focus on time affects behaviour I’ve come across this research on how young people develop their perspectives on time.

In the abstract of the study, which looked at 935 people between the ages of 10 and 30, the authors say they found that:

Younger adolescents consistently demonstrate a weaker orientation to the future than do individuals aged 16 and older, as reflected in their greater willingness to accept a smaller reward delivered sooner than a larger one that is delayed, and in their characterizations of themselves as less concerned about the future and less likely to anticipate the consequences of their decisions. Planning ahead, in contrast, continues to develop into young adulthood.

On the British Psychological Society’s blog they argue:

Another important finding was that a tendency to favour immediate rewards was associated with the participants’ self-reported tendency to not think about the consequences of their actions, but was less related to their self-reported impulsivity and disinclination to plan ahead. It’s a subtle distinction, but Steinberg’s team said this implies future orientation is influenced by at least two developmental trajectories: one relating to a proclivity to plan ahead, which continues to emerge well into early adulthood, and another related to a diminishing salience of immediate rewards, which as we’ve seen, undergoes a crucial change in mid-adolescence.

One might argue that this is why one of the aims of drug prevention is to delay the onset of drug taking in young people; allowing them to move from a period where the here and now is the most important consideration to one where they can see the future becoming increasingly so.


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