The Motivational Impact of Temporal Focus: Thinking about the Future and the Past

Rachel Karniol*, Michael Ross

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this chapter, we consider the degree to which individuals are pulled to behave by their conceptions of the future, pushed to act by their recollections of the past, or primarily driven by current exigencies. In examining conceptions of the future, we discuss how individuals bridge the present and the future, the origin of goals, their impact on behavior and cognition, and the motivational underpinnings for inferring other people's goals. We then outline four theoretical approaches to goal prioritization, the motivational impact of proximal vs distal goals, and the distinction between approaching positive vs avoiding negative outcomes. Turning to conceptions of the past, we discuss the motivational push of the past, the use of the past to select one's goals, the impact current goals have on recall and interpretations of the past, and individual differences in using the past. We conclude that temporal focus provides a meaningful framework for social cognitive approaches to motivation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)593-620
Number of pages28
JournalAnnual Review of Psychology
StatePublished - 1996


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