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The Theory of MindTime and the relationships

between thinking perspective and the Big Five
personality traits

Article in Personality and Individual Differences September 2009

DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2009.03.006


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Vincent Fortunato
Walden University


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Personality and Individual Differences 47 (2009) 241246

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Personality and Individual Differences

journal homepage:

The Theory of MindTime and the relationships between thinking perspective

and the Big Five personality traits q
Vincent J. Fortunato a,b,1,*, John T. Furey b,1
Walden University and The MindTime Project LLC, School of Psychology, Boise, ID 83714, United States
The MindTime Project LLC, Ketchum, ID, United States

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: This manuscript introduces a theory of individual differences based on the arguably unique ability of
Received 10 December 2008 human beings to engage in mental time travel (Suddendorf & Corballis, 1997). The Theory of MindTime
Received in revised form 3 March 2009 posits that the ability to engage in mental time travel gave rise to the development of three distinct pat-
Accepted 5 March 2009
terns of thinking: Past thinking, Future thinking, and Present thinking, and that measurable individual
Available online 5 April 2009
differences exist in the extent to which each of the three thinking perspectives are utilized. In this man-
uscript, we present an overview of the theory and examine the construct validity of a three-dimensional
measure of thinking based on the theory by examining relationships between scores on this measure
Thinking styles
Thinking perspective
with scores on Costa & McCraes (1992) Five-Factor Inventory (FFI). Data were collected from 819 under-
Future thinking graduate students (59.6% female; 83.3% Caucasian). In general, the results supported our hypotheses that
Mental time travel Future, Past, and Present thinking would differentially relate to scores on subscales of the FFI.
Personality 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Personality traits

1. Introduction as Past, Future, and Present thinking. Moreover, we propose that

(a) individual differences exist in the extent to which the three
The ability to conceptualize and localize human experience thinking perspectives are utilized, (b) these differences can be
temporally (i.e., engage in mental time travel) is considered one measured, and (c) the extent to which individuals utilize each of
of the most important evolutionary advancements of conscious- the three thinking styles, separately and in combination, inuences
ness in Homo sapiens (e.g., Suddendorf & Corballis, 1997, 2007). how individuals perceive and interact with the world and others.
Mental time travel refers to the ability to mentally project oneself In this manuscript, we present a brief synopsis of our model as well
forwards and backwards in time to either imagine possible future as evidence supporting the construct validity of a three-dimen-
events or to re-live or experience events that have already occurred sional measure of thinking based on the model. We do so by exam-
(Suddendorf & Corballis, 2007). No longer limited to reacting to ining relationships between scores on the Past, Future, and Present
immediate sensory and physiological input, early hominids devel- thinking with scores on Costa and McCraes (1992) Five-Factor
oped the behavioral exibility to draw upon past experiences, Inventory.
envision future possibilities, seek out additional relevant informa-
tion, set goals, develop strategies, and plan and organize current 1.1. Mental time travel
activities, all for the purpose of increasing ones chance of personal
and reproductive survival (e.g., Suddendorf & Busby, 2003, 2005). According to Suddendorf (1999), the evolution of higher-order
Originally proposed by Furey (1994), Furey & Stevens, 2004, we cognitive functions began less than 1.5 million years ago when
posit that three distinct patterns of thinking evolved in concert Homo erectus/ergaster rst began to dissociate mentally from pri-
with the ability to engage in mental time travel. We refer to these mary perceptions and response tendencies. First, ancestors of mod-
ern humans developed the ability to create accurate symbolic
(primary) representations of real world objects that have certain
MindTime is the registered trademark of MindTime Inc. and TimeStyle is a properties at a given point in space and time. Second, early homi-
trademark of MindTime Inc. nids developed the ability to decouple those representations from
* Corresponding author. Address: Walden University, School of Psychology, Boise,
the present and place them into different temporal locations (sec-
ID 83714, United States. Tel.: +1 208 426 1758.
E-mail address: (V.J. Fortunato). ondary representations). Third, early hominids developed the abil-
Both authors contribute equally to this article. ity to mentally and symbolically represent relationships among

0191-8869/$ - see front matter 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Author's personal copy

242 V.J. Fortunato, J.T. Furey / Personality and Individual Differences 47 (2009) 241246

those secondary representations (i.e., metarepresentations). Meta- 1.2.3. Present thinking

representations involve the ability to understand that a represen- The ability to essentially step out of time mentally and concep-
tation of an object or event is just that: a representation of an tualize and observe sensory input, mental processes, and behav-
object. ioral output from the point of view of a self-aware observer
The ability to dissociate from primary perceptions and entertain corresponds with a pattern of thinking we refer to as Present think-
multiple representations of an object allowed for the creation of a ing. Present thinking provided Homo sapiens with the ability to
new level of mental executive control over actions, referred to as integrate current needs with the products of Past and Future think-
metamind. As summarized by Suddendorf (1999), the concept of ing and to organize and structure the world accordingly. Thus,
metamind includes the reective self-referencing of the inner Present thinking, is organized thinking involving the development
eye; the ability to understand, reect on, and predict the mental of action plans and the ability to organize resources to achieve
states of others; the use of second-order instrumentalities in the those plans by the most efcient means possible. In brief, Present
development of action plans; and the ability to engage in mental thinking is oriented toward getting things done.
time travel. Mental time travel involves the ability to disengage
from the present, the active reconstruction of both past and future 1.2.4. Summary
events based on the information contained in both episodic and According to Darwin (1859), individual variation in abilities
semantic memory (e.g., Suddendorf, 1999; Tulving, 1993), and formed the foundation of natural selection with an important prin-
the ability to temporally locate those reconstructions as belonging ciple being that a species will exhibit variations in physical, behav-
to the past or to the future. ioral, emotional, and cognitive characteristics. Over time,
individuals who present characteristics that are adaptive for sur-
1.2. The Theory of MindTime vival will be more likely to survive and pass those characteristics
on to their offspring. Thus, variations in human characteristics
It is our supposition that the ability to engage in mental time can be understood as being a function of the process of evolution
travel gave rise to the development of three distinct patterns of in which those characteristics that are most adaptive will increase
thinking and the variations observed today in how individuals uti- the probability of survival. It is our supposition that three distinct
lize each of the three thinking perspectives. According to the The- thinking styles evolved in concert with the ability of human beings
ory of MindTime (Furey, 1994; Furey & Stevens, 2004), three to engage in mental time travel because each increased chances of
thinking perspectives Past thinking, Future thinking, and Present personal and reproductive survival. In addition, we posit that as a
thinking exist as a part of human consciousness because each result of the same process, natural variations exist in the extent to
provided an evolutionary advantage to Homo sapiens. Past think- which individuals utilize each of the three thinking perspectives
ing refers to the pattern of thinking associated with the ability to and that these differences, in part, inuence how individuals per-
mentally time travel into the past to access past experiences and ceive and interact with the world and others.
knowledge stored in memory. Future thinking refers to the pattern
of thinking associated with the ability to mentally time travel into 1.3. Personality
the future to imagine future possibilities. Present thinking refers to
the pattern of thinking that is associated with the ability of con- Although many different personality taxonomies exist, one of
sciousness to organize its own actions and mental states as well the most popular is that of the Five-Factor Model (also known as
as manipulate the environment. the Big Five: neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, openness,
and conscientiousness). According to Costa and McCrae (1992), Ey-
senck (1998) and Goldberg (1993), for example, neuroticism is the
1.2.1. Past thinking
tendency to experience a heightened sensitivity to negative stimuli
Mental time travel into the past provided human beings with
and negative emotionality, such as worry and anxiety; Extraver-
the ability to access past experiences stored in episodic memory
sion is the tendency for being concerned with or responsive to
through reection and contemplation and the active reconstruc-
things external to oneself and to engage in social activities; Agree-
tion and recoding of information stored in semantic memory. Past
ableness is the tendency to be pleasant and accommodating in so-
thinking, in turn, provided Homo sapiens with the ability to con-
cial situations as well as a general orientation towards
sciously access stored information in order to minimize the risks
experiencing empathy, warmth, and generosity toward others;
involved when interacting with current and anticipated environ-
Openness is the tendency toward being imaginative, open to new
mental and situational events. Thus, Past thinking occurs when
experiences, and having a broad range of interests; Conscientious-
individuals actively retrieve past experiences and knowledge
ness is the tendency toward having good impulse control, being
and reconstruct, analyze, and critically evaluate information
dependable, reliable, organized, and mindful of details.
stored in memory for its relevance to the current situation. In
brief, Past thinking is reective thinking oriented toward risk
1.4. Hypotheses
Because Past thinking involves the ability to access past experi-
1.2.2. Future thinking ences stored in episodic memory through reection and contempla-
Mental time travel into the future provided human beings with tion and because Past thinking is oriented toward minimizing the
the ability to creatively imagine an innite set of hypothetical fu- risks involved when interacting with current and anticipated envi-
ture possibilities and as a result provided Homo sapiens with the ronmental and situational events, we believe that Past thinking will
cognitive exibility to foresee and adapt to ever-changing environ- manifest as (a) a natural tendency toward being introspective and
mental circumstances. Thus, Future thinking is imaginative think- (b) a heightened sensitivity toward the presence of negative envi-
ing: It involves the ability to see gaps in existing knowledge and of ronmental stimuli. Thus, we hypothesize that Past thinking will cor-
patterns and trends that diverge from prevailing schemas. It also relate negatively with extraversion and positively with neuroticism.
involves creative problem solving, divergent thinking, and the gen- Because Future thinking involves the ability to creatively imag-
erative process of combining and recombining items into virtually ine an innite number of future scenarios and because future
innite numbers of novel sequences (Suddendorf & Corballis, thinking is oriented toward open-ended big picture thinking, we
1997). In brief, Future thinking is big picture thinking. believe that Future thinking will manifest as a natural tendency to-
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V.J. Fortunato, J.T. Furey / Personality and Individual Differences 47 (2009) 241246 243

ward being (a) extraverted and (b) open to and comfortable with 12-items used as indicators of each of the ve personality dimen-
change. Thus, we hypothesize that Future thinking will correlate sions. Costa and McCrae reported evidence for the reliability and
positively with extraversion and openness. validity of the NEO-FFI. In this study, items were scored on a 7-
Because Present thinking involves the ability to develop action point Likert scale. Coefcient alpha estimates of reliability were
plans and organize the resources needed to execute those plans, .84, .79, .77, .73, and .81 for neuroticism, extraversion, agreeable-
we believe that Present thinking will manifest as a natural ten- ness, openness, and conscientiousness, respectively.
dency toward reliable, methodical, and conscientious action. Thus,
we hypothesize that Present thinking will correlate positively with 2.3. Data analysis
Pearson product moment correlation coefcients were com-
2. Method puted to assess the relationships between scores on the TimeStyle
Inventory and scores on the FFI. Age and sex were also included in
2.1. Participants and procedure these analyses based on previous ndings that demographic vari-
ables often correlate with scores on measures of personality and
Participants consisted of 819 undergraduate students from a intellectual style (e.g., Costa & McCrae, 1992; Zhang, 2002a,
medium-sized northwestern university. Six hundred and fourteen 2002b). In addition, we computed a series of hierarchical multiple
students were enrolled in multiple sections of General Psychology regressions in which scores on the FFI served as the dependent
and participated in this study in partial fulllment of a research variables. These analyses were computed to determine the extent
requirement. These students made appointments on-line, con- to which each of the three thinking perspectives predicted person-
vened in a pre-designated classroom, and received packets consist- ality, controlling for the other perspectives. At step 1, age and sex
ing of the TimeStyle Inventory and the FFI. Two hundred and were entered to control for these effects. At step 2, scores on the
twenty-two students enrolled in a single section of Statistical three thinking perspectives were entered. Finally, we computed
Methods lled out their questionnaires during the rst week of an exploratory principal components analysis using varimax rota-
class. Data from both samples were combined. The average age tion to assess the degree of conceptual overlap between the three
of participants was 21.62 with ages ranging from 18 to 52 years thinking perspectives and the FFI.
old. Sixty percent (59.6%) of participants were women. Eighty-
three percent (83.3%) of participants indicated that they were Cau- 3. Results
casian; and 3.9%, 6.5%, 2.7%, 0.9% and 2.2% indicated that they were
AfricanAmerican; Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and other, 3.1. Correlation coefcients
Table 1 shows means, standard deviations, and correlation coef-
2.2. Measures cients among all measured variables. All of our hypotheses were
supported. Specically, scores on Past thinking correlated posi-
2.2.1. Thinking perspective tively with scores on neuroticism and negatively with scores on
Thinking perspective was measured using a 34-item version of extraversion; scores on Future thinking correlated positively with
our TimeStyle Inventory. Examples of the 12-item Future thinking scores on extraversion and openness; and scores on Present think-
scale are People think of me as a visionary and I am known for ing correlated positively with scores on conscientiousness.
invention/innovation. Examples of the 15-item Present thinking
scale are People think of me as organized, and I am known for 3.2. Hierarchical regressions
getting things done. Examples of the seven-item Past thinking
scale are I like to reect on what was and Past experiences As shown in Table 2, the three thinking perspectives each pre-
strongly inform my decision making. Items were scored on a 7- dicted variance on scores of measures of the FFI. Neuroticism was
point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree; 7 = strongly agree). Coef- predicted by Past thinking (positively) and Future thinking (neg-
cient alpha estimates of reliability for scores on the Future, Present, atively); Extraversion was predicted by Future thinking (posi-
and Past thinking scales were .84, .91 and .80, respectively. tively) and Past thinking (negatively): Agreeableness was
predicted by Past thinking (negatively); Openness was predicted
2.2.2. The ve factor model by Future thinking (positively) and Present thinking (negatively);
The Big Five personality traits were measured using Costa and and Conscientiousness was predicted by Present thinking
McCraes (1992) NEO-FFI. The NEO-FFI is a 60-item measure with (positively).

Table 1
Correlation coefcients among measured variables, N = 819.

Means SD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1. Sex .40 .49
2. Age 21.62 6.68 .06
3. Future 4.73 .80 .14** .00 (.84)
4. Present 5.03 .95 -.27** .01 .04 (.91)
5. Past 4.87 1.07 .03 .09** .02 .14** (.80)
6. Neuroticism 3.99 .99 .13** .08* .11 .12** .43** (.84)
7. Extraversion 4.86 .82 .16** .04 .37** .07 .11** .32** (.79)
8. Agreeableness 4.74 .83 .25** .10** .00 .09* .13* .25** .33** (.77)
9. Openness 4.46 .83 .08* .06 .37** .10** .01 .05 .09** .13** (.73)
10. Conscientiousness 4.85 .81 .17** .15** .04 .65** .03 .11** .15** .20** .08* (.81)

Note: Correlation coefcients were computed using pair-wise deletion of scores.

p < .05, 2-tailed.
p < .01, 2-tailed.
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244 V.J. Fortunato, J.T. Furey / Personality and Individual Differences 47 (2009) 241246

Table 2
Predicting the Big Five personality traits using thinking perspectives in study 1 (N = 778).

Neuroticism Extraversion Agreeableness Openness Conscientiousness

2 2 2 2
Step Variable DR B b DR B b DR B b DR B b DR 2 B b
*** * *** *
1 Demographic variables .02 .03 .07 .01 .06***
Sex .26 .13*** .26 .16*** .43 .25*** .14 .08* .30 .18***
Age .01 .08* .00 .03 .01 .12** .01 .07 .02 .16***
2 Demographic variables
Sex .22 .11*** .45 .21*** .42 .25*** .32 .19*** .00 .00
Age .01 .04 .01 .04 .01 .11** .01 .07* .02 .14***
Thinking Perspectives .19*** .17*** .02** .17*** .40***
Future thinking .11 .09** .42 .40*** .04 .04 .41 .40*** .03 .03
Present thinking .11 .04 .02 .02 .03 .03 .15 .17*** .55 .66***
Past thinking .45 .43*** .09 .12*** .10 .12*** .02 .03 .04 .05*
Constant 2.30 3.51 4.79 3.07 1.74
Total .21*** .20*** .09*** .19*** .45***

Notes. Sex was scored as follows: 0 = women; 1 = men. Regression analyses were conducted using list-wise deletion of scores.
p < .05.
p < .01.
p < .001.

Table 3 of low Future scores combined with high Past scores yielded the
Factor analysis using varimax rotation on thinking perspective and Big Five highest neuroticism scores. Future and Past thinking also predicted
personality traits, N = 778.
extraversion but in the opposite direction: the additive combina-
Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor 3 tion of high Future scores and low Past scores yielded the highest
Variable extraversion scores. Past thinking predicted agreeableness: High
Future thinking .05 .04 .82 Past scores predicted low agreeableness scores. Future and Present
Present thinking .14 .89 .04 thinking predicted openness: the additive combination of high Fu-
Past thinking .71 .21 .16
ture scores and low Present scores yielded the highest scores on
Neuroticism .83 .03 .01
Extraversion .52 .23 .51 openness. Finally, Present thinking predicted conscientiousness:
Agreeableness .52 .29 .18 high Present scores yielded high conscientiousness scores.
Openness .08 .16 .75 Finally, the results of our factor analyses were consistent with
Conscientiousness .13 .88 .03
the regression analyses. Three distinct factors were noted: One fac-
% Variance 24.73 21.27 17.47
Cumulative variance 24.73 45.99 63.45
tor was comprised of positive loadings involving scores on Past
Eigen values 1.98 1.70 1.40 thinking and neuroticism, and negative loadings involving scores
on extraversion, and agreeableness. A second factor was comprised
Notes: Component coefcients above |.50| are in bold. Factor analysis was con-
ducted using list-wise deletion of scores.
of positive loadings involving scores on Future thinking, extraver-
sion, and openness. A third factor was comprised of positive load-
ings involving scores on Present thinking and conscientiousness.
Together, these ndings provide qualied support for the theo-
3.3. Factor analyses retical supposition that the extent to which individuals utilize each
of the three thinking styles, separately and in combination, inu-
Exploratory factor analyses with varimax rotation yielded three ences how individuals perceive and interact with the world and
factors explaining 64% of variance (see Table 3). One factor con- others. First, our ndings showed that, individually, Future, Past,
sisted of high loadings of Past thinking (positive), neuroticism (po- and Present thinking differentially shared variance with each the
sitive), extraversion (negative), and agreeableness (negative). A ve personality traits. Second, our ndings also showed that, to-
second factor in both studies consisted of high loadings of Present gether, the amount of variance explained in the personality mea-
thinking and conscientiousness (both positive). A third factor con- sures, excluding agreeableness, by Future, Past, and Present
sisted of high loadings of Future thinking, extraversion, and thinking ranged from 19% to 45%. However, we note that because
openness. our research method was non-experimental and because the rela-
tionships between scores on the three thinking perspectives and
4. Discussion the FFI were examined using correlation and regression tech-
niques, inferences of causality cannot be made. Rather, our ndings
In this article, we presented a synopsis of our Theory of Mind- merely show that there was shared variance between scores on the
Time and examined the construct validity of a three-dimensional thinking perspectives and scores on the FFI.
measure based on that model. We did so by comparing scores on
the TimeStyle Inventory with scores on Costa and McCraes 4.1. Thinking perspective and personality
(1992) FFI. In general, the results of our analyses supported our
hypotheses: Future thinking correlated positively with extraver- Carver and Scheier (2000, p. 5) wrote: Personality is a dynamic
sion and openness; Past thinking correlated positively with neurot- organisation, inside the person, of psychophysical systems that
icism and negatively with extraversion; and Present thinking create a persons characteristic patterns of behaviour, thoughts,
correlated positively with conscientiousness. and feelings. Unfortunately, most personality taxonomies are
We also conducted a series of regression analyses to determine based on lexical analyses of adjectives and psychometric analyses,
whether Past, Future, and Present thinking, in combination, would rather than theory (e.g., Livesley, Jang, & Vernon, 2003) and a re-
differentially predict scores on the FFI. We found that both Future view of the literature suggests that there is still some debate as
and Past thinking predicted neuroticism: the additive combination to the number of parsimonious personality categories (e.g., Alma-
Author's personal copy

V.J. Fortunato, J.T. Furey / Personality and Individual Differences 47 (2009) 241246 245

gor, Tellegen, & Waller, 1995; Costa & McCrae, 1992; Eysenck, skills, expertise, and cognitive styles (e.g., Armstrong & Priola,
1991). As Livesley et al. (2003, p. 61) stated, The existence of such 2001; West, 2004). It is our belief that our Theory of MindTime
basic uncertainty about the taxonomy of personality traits might be of utility for the hiring and placement of individuals for
. . .[and]. . . the relationships among traits is a major obstacle to certain roles in teams given the functional diversity needed for
constructing a theory of individual differences and clarication of team success.
these issues is essential for the eld to advance.
This uncertainty is also problematic when examining the genet-
ic basis for personality. This eld of inquiry typically involves a 5. Conclusion
top-down approach in which a few higher order constructs are
specied before attempting to decompose those constructs into This manuscript describes a new model of individual differ-
their constituent traits and the exploration of their neurophysio- ences based on the ability of human beings to engage in mental
logic, biochemical and genetic correlates (e.g., Livesley et al., time travel and provides evidence for the construct validity of a
2003; Rushton, Bons, & Hur, 2008). three-dimensional measure based on the model. Indeed, it is our
It is our contention that, unlike most approaches to personality, view that the thinking patterns we propose Future, Past, and
the Theory of MindTime provides a theoretical foundation for Present thinking arose concurrently with the human adaptation
understanding, in part, the manner in which individuals perceive to engage in mental time travel and that variations in the expres-
and interact with the world (i.e., their personality). Moreover, we sion of the three thinking patterns exist largely for the purpose of
believe that research in a variety of elds provides converging sup- increasing biological, personal, and social survival. In conclusion,
port for our theory. For example, in cognitive psychology, evidence we believe that our Theory of MindTime provides a parsimonious
exists for different types of memory systems (e.g., Tulving, 1985; and intuitive description of how people think. In addition, reliabil-
Tulving, 1993); in neuro-psychology, biological evidence for these ity and construct validity evidence supports the use of the Time-
memory systems has been shown (e.g., Buckner & Carroll, 2007). In Style Inventory as a measure of thinking perspective. Although
comparative psychology, evidence indicates that clear differences future research is needed to assess the predictive validity of the
exist across species in the existence of and ability to utilize these TimeStyle Inventory, we believe it has utility for a wide range of
memory systems to engage in mental time travel (e.g., Suddendorf applications, especially in organizations.
& Corballis, 2007; Tulving 2007). In developmental psychology, the
existence of mental time travel has been used to assess develop- References
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