The Tense of the Question Matters: Asking About the Past Leads to Personally Typical Future Behavior

This research demonstrates that being asked about future intentions to engage in behavior leads to different behavioral consequences than being asked about behavior engaged in the past. Three studies found that individuals behave in socially normative ways when asked about the future, and in personally typical ways when asked about the past. We propose that this observed effect occurs because while being asked about the future evokes social norms (in addition to thoughts of one’s past behavior), being asked about past behavior simply evokes one’s past behavior (and what is personally typical), which in turn affects subsequent behavior. Supporting this, we demonstrate that the effect of asking about the past (and evoking what is personally typical) is attenuated when individuals are reminded of social norms. This research makes novel contributions to understanding how mental travel to the future versus the past serves as differential social influences to alter behavior.


Kate E. Min, Tanya L. Chartrand, and Gavan J. Fitzsimons (2011) ,"The Tense of the Question Matters: Asking About the Past Leads to Personally Typical Future Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 39, eds. Rohini Ahluwalia, Tanya L. Chartrand, and Rebecca K. Ratner, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 699-700.


Kate E. Min, Duke University, USA
Tanya L. Chartrand, Duke University, USA
Gavan J. Fitzsimons, Duke University, USA


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 39 | 2011

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