Values of the past and the future: cultural differences in temporal value asymmetry
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Past research has indicated that Chinese culture is more past oriented; whereas North American culture is more future oriented. Such cultural differences in temporal orientation may affect how people value future and past events. I predicted that the typical temporal asymmetry effect among European North Americans - placing more value on future events than on past ones - would be reversed among Chinese due to the cultural differences in temporal orientation. I conducted four studies to examine how culture affects the values people attached to past and future events. Overall, the results supported my predictions. Across all four studies, I found that European Canadians attached more monetary value to an event in the future than to an identical event in the past with similar temporal distance; whereas Chinese people placed more monetary value on a past event than on an identical future event. In Study 3, I also investigated the underlying mechanisms that would account for such cultural differences. Among the three mediators believed to be affected by the past and future orientations, I found two that mediated the cultural influences on the temporal value asymmetry effect: (1) emotions associated with future and past events, and (2) mental simulations of future and past events. Specifically, European Canadians predicted stronger emotions for future events than what they recalled for past events, whereas Chinese showed an opposite trend. Emotions associated with future or past events, in turn, predicted the monetary values attached to the events. In addition, relative to Chinese Canadians, who showed clearer mental simulations for past than for future events, European Canadians had clearer mental simulations for future than for past events. Mental simulations, in turn, showed a positive association with the monetary value assigned to the events.