The Development of Time Orientation Measures For Use in Cross-Cultural Research

Gary Ko, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
James W. Gentry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
ABSTRACT - We argue that concern for one's time orientation in studies of cross-cultural consumer behavior is needed, and then discuss the development of measures for the construct. Although the reliability of the measures is weak even for exploratory purposes, the pattern of relationships between time orientation and other variables used in cross-cultural research (acculturation and locus of control) is what should be expected on a theoretical basis. Thus, the study concludes that more work in the scale development area concerning time orientation may well be a contribution to the area of cross-cultural consumer research.
[ to cite ]:
Gary Ko and James W. Gentry (1991) ,"The Development of Time Orientation Measures For Use in Cross-Cultural Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 135-142.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 135-142


Gary Ko, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

James W. Gentry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


We argue that concern for one's time orientation in studies of cross-cultural consumer behavior is needed, and then discuss the development of measures for the construct. Although the reliability of the measures is weak even for exploratory purposes, the pattern of relationships between time orientation and other variables used in cross-cultural research (acculturation and locus of control) is what should be expected on a theoretical basis. Thus, the study concludes that more work in the scale development area concerning time orientation may well be a contribution to the area of cross-cultural consumer research.

Time is a multi-dimensional cognitive-motivational-cultural construct (Trommsdorf 1983). Due to its complexity, Fraisse (1984) suggests that time should be viewed as a notion rather as a construct. Lehmann (1967) classified time into four categories: external lime (clock time), internal time estimation (internalized clock time), subjective time awareness (duration), and subjective time perspective. The first two conceptions refer to our objective understanding of time, while the last two refer to our subjective experience of time. To the extent that human behaviors are in response to what is perceived, and not what exists in reality, subjective time is of particular relevance to the study of consumer behavior. Subjective time duration, which refers to our subjective experience of time passage as influenced by our affect, emotion, and/or other situational and structural variables, has received a great deal of coverage in the psychology literature (see Fraisse 1984 for a review). Consumer researchers have also shown a growing interest in time (Feldman and Hornik 1981; Graham 1981; Hirschman 1987; Hornik 1982, 1984; Jacoby, Szybillo, and Berning 1976).

Relatively less attention has been paid to subjective time perspective, which is related to our subjective experience of the past, present, and future (Edlund 1987). However, some researchers (Doob 1971; Graham 1981; Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck 1961; Hall 1976, 1987) have recognized distinctive cultural differences in subjective time perspectives. This paper explores the possibility of developing valid measures for some dimensions (time orientation and time extension) of the cross-cultural time perspective.

Time orientation refers to the emphasis of the past and tradition as opposed to living for today or investing in tomorrow (Henry 1976). Evidence suggests that some people are more prone to a past-orientation, whereas others are prone to a future-orientation, depending on their cultural backgrounds. Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961) included time orientation as one of the four fundamental value orientations of different cultures. One's time orientation may help explain one's rate of conducting negotiations, one's rate of adopting product innovations, and one's expected payback period for new products. This study will discuss the development of a time orientation scale, and will then contrast it with measures of time extension and with other cultural variables (locus of control and acculturation) frequently found in cross-cultural research.

A secondary purpose of the research is to investigate further the Tan and McCullough (1985) Chineseness scale as a possible measure of acculturation for use with students from the Pacific Rim (coming from countries with a strong Confucian background) now in the United States. Much cross-cultural research originates in the West and researchers frequently use international students in the pilot study stage of instrument development. A frequently raised question concerns the extent to which international students have become Westernized and no longer maintain their former cultural identity. The Tan and McCullough scale offers an attitudinal measure of one's maintenance of traditional Confucian values, and it is also flexible enough to use with non-Asian samples, as was done in the Ellis, McCullough, Wallendorf, and Tan (1985) study.

Before delving into the measure issues, we will first review briefly the constructs to be investigated.


As Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961) noted, one's time orientation is largely a product of his/her culture, e.g., a person may be encouraged through a complex socialization process to have a past or future orientation. Doob (1971) argues forcefully that traditional societies favor a past time orientation, while modern Western societies favor a future time orientation. In general, people from Far Eastern countries such as China, Japan, and Korea tend to have past time orientations, while Latin Americans are more present-oriented, and Westerners (Americans and Northern Europeans) have more of a future time orientation (Benedict 1946; Graham 1981; Hall 1959, 1976; Meade 1971; Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck 1961; Yau 1988).

Hall (1959, 1976) dichotomizes time-orientations into monochronic (m-time) and polychronic (p-time). M-time people tend to prefer to do one thing at a time, resulting in a greater reliance on schedules, segmentation, and promptness. Time can be saved or wasted, notions frequently foreign to p-time people. P-time systems are characterized by several things happening at once, and they stress involvement of people and completion of transactions rather than adherence to preset schedules. Hall asserts that Westerners are likely to be monochronic, while p-time systems are more common in Latin American and in the Mediterranean countries.

Graham (1981) offers a slightly different categorization of time orientations, those of linear-separable, circular-traditional, and procedural traditional. The linear-separable time perception, which is characteristics of Anglos, favors a strong future time orientation. If time is perceived as flowing from the past to the future in an irreversible fashion, it should be properly spent so as to achieve a future goal. The circular-traditional time perception, on the other hand, fosters a present time orientation, which is often described as the manana spirit in the cultures with Spanish backgrounds. The procedural-traditional time perception is common among those influenced by Confucian values; the reliance on strong traditional values tends to favor a strong past orientation (Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck 1961; Yau 1988). It should be noted that Hall's (1976) notion of monochronic time relates to a strong future orientation, whereas the notion of polychronic time implies present and past orientations.

Having a specific time orientation does not necessarily mean that one's cognitions and behaviors are completely dictated by a single dominant orientation. As Cottle and Klineberg (1974) noted, one's being past oriented does not mean that s/he is totally unaffected by future time; it may be that s/he differs from others in his/her preferential ordering of past-, present-, and future-oriented activities. Relying on the concept of operating culture, Graham (1981) also maintains that a person is able to operate within a variety of different sets of beliefs and time perceptions.

Future Extension. For some individuals, the future seems to be perceived as something dynamically changing and for others it is perceived as somewhat more static but extending farther, again depending upon culture. Smith (1952), for instance, maintained that American egos tended to extend forward to the somewhat curtailed future with little attention paid to the past, whereas both Hindu and Chinese egos tended to extend far backward to the past and far forward to the future. According to Wallace (1956), extension refers to the conceptualization of the length of future time. He measured time extension as the range of years between the subject's actual age and the most distant event envisioned by him/her. Cottle (1976) proposed the experiential inventory method in which the subjects were asked to list the ten most important experiences of their lives and to locate each experience in a particular time zone. People may have a more extended but less structured time perspective or have a less extended but more structured future time. However, the combination of an extended and structured future is not likely, due to limitations in cognitive capacity.

As suggested earlier, having a past time orientation does not necessarily mean that the future cannot be anticipated or envisioned. In fact, there is some evidence that Easterners have a longer future time span. Cottle and Klineberg (1974) argued that humans make of themselves a bridge between past and future; thus, the deeper their ties with the past, the longer their perspectives on the future. Japanese businessmen are reputed to have a longer time horizon than their American counterparts and to emphasize increases in- market share rather than the maximization of short term profits. West (1989) relates Asians' longer view of time to longer histories, a greater sense of the past, and a group-orientation. Hall (1959, p. 30) describes an important characteristic of American time:

The future to us is the foreseeable future, not the future of the South Asian that may involve centuries ...Anyone who has worked in industry or in the government of the United States has heard the following: "Gentlemen, this is for the long term! Five or ten years."...The South Asian, however, feels that it is perfectly realistic to think of a long time in term of thousands of years or even an endless period....The Americans view of the future is linked to a view of the past, for tradition plays an equally limited part in American culture. As a whole, we push it aside.

Asians have an intergenerational time perspective that considers both current and future generations (Tse, Lee, Vertinsky, and Wehrung 1988). While Americans have a less extended future time orientation, they are more likely to have a better structured and more dynamic future. A monochronic perception of time (Hall 1976; Hall and Hall 1987; McClelland 1961) forces Americans to plan ahead with accuracy. The polychronic time perception characteristic of Arabic, Asian, and Spanish cultures is less conducive to a coherent structuring of the future. In sum, regarding future time perspectives, American consumers experience a less extended but dynamically changing future, while Asians experience a more extended but stable future.


Acculturation has been found to be a very strong factor altering one's time perspective. Melikian (1969) investigated differences in future orientation for Saudi-born Moslem male college students, finding that the students exposed to foreign cultures were more future-oriented than the students who were not exposed to foreign cultures.

A common proxy measure of acculturation has been the length of stay in the United States, but there is not always a one-to-one correspondence between time here and the change in one's cultural values. We are interested in psychological acculturation, a term coined by Graves (1967) to refer to the changes that an individual experiences as a result of being in contact with other cultures, and as a result of participating in the process of acculturation that one's cultural or ethnic group is undergoing. As Berry and Kim (1988) note, the acculturation process will vary according to type of group membership. Immigrants may want to accept the norms of the dominant culture, whereas refugees and sojourners do so at a much slower pace. Berry (1990) concludes that the assumption that acculturation is a linear process over time is probably true for those in the "assimilation mode" (as are immigrants), but not those who have not adopted that mode (refugees and sojourners). International students intending to stay in the United States would be similar to immigrants, while those planning to return to their own country (as is the case of the Korean students included in this study) are more properly labeled sojourners, as they are more likely to seek cultural maintenance (Berry, Trimble, and Olmedo 1986).

Thus, we sought a scale which captures traditional Confucian values. Tan and McCullough (1985) developed such a scale which reflected traditional value orientations (Hsu 1948; Kingston 6976; Levy 1949). Their original scale (alternately called the Ethnic Attitude Inventory and the Chineseness Index) had ten items, but it was expanded to 12 items when it was used with an American sample (Ellis et al. 1985). One advantage of the scale is that it can be used with American as well as Asian respondents (Ellis et al. 1985); years in the United States is usually quite meaningless when used with U. S. respondents, as it is the same as one's age in most instances.


To measure time orientation, a Likert-type 22-item scale was developed. Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck's measure of time orientation was used as a basis for some of the items.

Time extension was tested using Cottle's (1976) approach, which asked subjects to list the ten most important experiences of their lives and to locate each experience in a particular time zone. Additionally, in order to measure time perspective in the consumer domain, subjects were asked to list their ten most important purchases made during their life time and to locate them in a particular time zone. Subjects were also asked in what year other than the current year they would most like to live in the future and in the past.


In addition to the time measures, the subjects completed the 12-item Tan and McCullough scale measuring adherence to traditional Confucian values and Levenson's (1974) shortened (and improved) version (24 items) of the Rotter (1966) Locus of Control scale.


The survey questionnaire was written in English and translated and back-translated into Korean for Korean subjects. Data were collected from 102 American students and 65 Korean students. All were seniors or graduate students attending a state university in the Midwest. The average age of the American subjects was 26.4 years and the average age of the Koreans was 30.2. Considering the tradition that Koreans count their ages starting from the year of birth, their reported ages are one or two years higher than their ages in the American sense.


Evaluation of the Scales

Factor analysis of the 22 time orientation items indicated that the future and past dimensions were distinct. Accordingly, two separate scales were developed for future and past orientations. After removing items due to low item to total correlations for respondents from both countries, the scales shown in Figure 1 were obtained. As indicated there, the Cronbach alpha levels for both the past and future orientation scales are unacceptable even for exploratory research (past: Korean .59, U. S. .51; future: Korean .38, U. S. .55). However, the pattern of results confirms our expectations. That is, Korean respondents were more consistent in their measures for the past items, but less so for the future items as would be expected according to the earlier conclusion that the Korean culture is past oriented. On the other hand, the U. S. respondents were slightly more consistent in their responses for future items, consistent with the conclusion that the U. S. culture is future oriented.

Two of the items in the second version of the Tan and McCullough (1985) Ethnic Attitude Scale were deleted due to low item to total correlations. The remaining ten items can also be seen in Figure 1. No alphas or factor structures were reported in Tan and McCullough (1985) or in Ellis et al. (1985), so the marginally acceptable alphas reported here (.63 for the U. S. subsample and .65 for the Korean subsample) have no basis for comparison.

The 24-item Locus of Control scale, as modified by Levenson (1974), exhibited good reliability (Cronbach alphas: U. S. subsample .87; Korean subsample .81). Further, the three subscales (Powerful O hers, Internal Control, Chance Control) also exhibited good reliability (U. S.: .75, .76, .76, respectively; Korea: .77, .51, .75, respectively) except for the Internal Control construct for Koreans. At least two possible explanations exist for the low Cronbach alpha for Internal Control among the Korean students. First, the general finding (McGinnies et al. 1974; Reitz and Grof 1974) is that Asians are more externally controlled than are U. S. respondents. Consequently, the low alpha might indicate that Koreans view the internal control items as being confusing. Second, there is evidence that the internal control subscale is less reliable than the other two subscales, as its reliabilities as reported by Levenson (1974) were consistently lower (in the range .62 to .64 as compared to reliabilities in the .70's for the other two sub-scales). The pattern of correlations among the three subscales differed across subsamples. For both subsamples, the Powerful Others and Chance Control subscales had a correlation of .57 (p<.001) in each case. For the Korean subsample, the Internal Control subscale was negatively correlated with the Powerful Others subscale (r=-.41, p<.001) and Chance Control (r=-. 13, p>.l). However, for the U. S. subsample, the Internal Control subscale was positively correlated with the Powerful Others (r=.16, p>.l) and the Chance Control (r=.40, p<.001) subscales. Thus, the Levenson (1974) revised Locus of Control instrument seems to be capturing different patterns of relationships in the two subsamples.



The time extension measures were operationalized as follows. The ten life events were categorized as occurring in the past, the current time (near past, now, near future), or in the future. The ten product purchases were categorized in a similar method. Then the number of events (purchases) in each time period was summed and used in the analyses. The second time extension measure was operationalized by obtaining the difference between the current year and the years in the future and the past which the respondents listed; these measures will be labeled future and past extension.



Relationships among the Constructs

The correlations among the various constructs are shown in Tables 1 and 2. In the U. S. subsample, past time orientation (TIMEPAST) is not related to the year-based time extension measures, but is related to the relative likelihood of mentioning past life events (p<.01) and of past purchases (p<.l). In addition, there is some indication that those in the U. S. sample with a past time orientation were less likely to list future life events (p<.l). For the Korean subsample, there was a marginally significant tendency (p<.l) for those with past time orientations to list more past purchases. Future time orientation has fewer relationships to time extension. In the U. S. subsample, it is correlated (p<.05) to the year in the future in which one would like to live, but is not related to any of the other extension measures (future or past). In the Korean subsample, future time orientation is related (p<.05) to the number of expected future purchases, but not to any of the other time extension measures.

In both subsamples, past time orientation is related strongly to locus of control (coded so that a higher score indicates an external locus of control). As indicated in Table 2, this relationship is explained by the positive correlations found between past time orientation and two of the three locus of control subscales (Powerful Others and Chance Control). Also, future time orientation is not related to locus of control in either culture. Those who emphasize the past tend to have an external locus of control, but those who think more about the future do not necessarily have a strong internal locus of control.



Past time orientation is related very strongly (p<.001) to the traditional Confucian values expressed in the Tan and McCullough (1985) Ethnic Attitude Scale in both cultures. Given that the Tan and McCullough scale represents traditional values in both cultures, the relationships are to be expected. Interestingly, the similarity in patterns breaks down when we investigate future time orientation, which is negatively correlated (p<.001) in the U. S. subsample but unrelated in the Korean subsample. In the U. S., an orientation to the future requires a break with traditional values, while no such separation is required for Koreans.

The relationship between the traditional Confucian values and locus of control varies across the subsamples, as might be expected since the relationship among the locus of control subscales varies across the subsamples. In the U. S. subsample, the relationship is only marginally significant (r=.17, p<.l) for the total scale, and none of the subscales are significantly related. In the Korean subsample, the total scale (r=.32, p<.02) and two of the subscales (Powerful Others: r=.40, p<.001; Chance Control: r=.33, p<.01) are positively correlated with the Tan and McCullough scale, while the internal control subscale is negatively correlated (r=-.22, p<.08).

The number of years spent in the United States by the Korean respondents is not related to differences in past or future time orientations. Given the low levels of reliability for these scales, one cannot conclude that time in the culture and attitudinal changes are unrelated. However, years in the U. S. is similarly unrelated to one's maintenance of Confucian values or to Locus of Control. In total, these results do not provide much substantiation for the use of years in another culture as a proxy for psychological changes taking place, especially when one is using international students not in the "assimilation mode" as subjects.


Our results present some evidence that there are cross-cultural differences in time orientation and that these differences may be useful to consumer researchers in-terms of explaining differences in terms of consumption. While we believe strongly that the development of reliable time orientation measures is greatly needed, we also have evidence that our current scales are in great need of improvement. A more systematic development of past and future time measures is needed, and we advocate the use of international samples in the purification process and the simultaneous use of emic and etic measures as discussed by Triandis (1972; Triandis and Marin 1983). This study has supported the notion that past-oriented cultures can deal with the future, but they view it differently (as being more stable) than do future oriented cultures (who view it as being more dynamic but also more structured in the short run). Our findings indicated that future-oriented U. S. respondents disagreed strongly with traditional Confucian values (whereas past-oriented Americans agreed strongly with them). On the other hand, more future-oriented Koreans saw no reason to disagree with the traditional values.

The use of a student sample has obvious limitations in terms of generalizing the results to the cultures as a whole. Yang (1986) reviewed a series of studies investigating the values of Chinese young people in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and found that there has been a drastic movement away form the traditional Chinese pattern. Further, he concluded that Chinese students now tend to have value orientations fairly similar to those of rural American students as reported in a study by Green (1979). Assuming that a similar transition is occurring among Korean youth, the differing patterns of time perceptions found in this study are probably only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the differences in time perceptions held by older adults in the two cultures.

A secondary purpose of this study was to make a preliminary investigation of the Tan and McCullough (1985) Ethnic Attitude Scale as a possible covariate to represent the level of psychological acculturation. Commonly, years of residence in the new culture is used as a proxy; our findings indicate that time spent in the U. S. was unrelated to one's time orientation, one's adherence to Confucian values, or to one's Locus of Control. The Tan and McCullough scale has marginally acceptable reliability in both the U. S. and Korean cultures and can be used as a co-variate in analyses in which data from both subsamples are combined. Thus we recommend that the scale be considered for use in pilot studies conducted in the U. S. which look at cross-cultural issues involving Pacific Rim cultures.


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