When you look to the future, what do you see?
Are you positive about it? Negative? Confused? Certain?
And how does this predict your level of self-esteem?
That’s what one study by Southwest University and Ohio University set out to determine by examining Chinese and American college students and their feelings about the future.
Future & Past Time Perspective
We’ve talked about time orientation in past posts.
Future time perspective involves goal-setting and forward-thinking.
Future-oriented cultures are progressive and look toward – you guessed it – the future.
They try to see the big picture.
They plan and are driven by aims and goals.
Past-oriented cultures are conservative and risk-averse.
They look at the past and present as interchangeable.
The past is revered and directs the future.
As you can see, each culture views time – and the future – very differently.
Using the FTP Scale (Future Time Perspective) and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, 340 American undergrads and 460 Chinese undergrads were tested.
The study found that the American undergrads were more negative and confused about the future, as well as more positive, perspicuous, and perseverant about it.
American students also exhibited higher self-esteem than their Chinese counterparts.
What do these results mean?
The study has some answers.
Why are young Americans more pessimistic about the future than their Chinese counterparts?
The study suggests that ever since the 2008 financial crisis, U.S. GDP has suffered, while China, as a developing nation, has a higher growth rate.
These socioeconomic factors may impact both groups’ levels of pessimism.
As for the Americans’ higher levels of optimism, this could be due to an innate belief in the economic development and national trends of the country.
Those from individualist cultures more often believe that the future is in their hands. This makes for both isolation and uncertainty.
Those from collectivist cultures have a social safety net.
Their future is also viewed from a collective perspective (parents, friends, teachers, etc.), so this group involvement may reduce feelings of uncertainty for Chinese undergrads.
In both the American and Chinese groups, self-esteem was linked to future-negative or future-positive sub scale scores.
Those who had a positive view of the future had higher self-esteem, while those with a negative view of the future had lower self-esteem.
Similarly, those confused about the future had lower self-esteem, while those perspicuous about the future had higher self-esteem.
The higher degrees of optimism and perspicuity about the future in the American group led to a higher average level of self-esteem overall.