Temporal Focus as a Mediator between Cultural Values and Subjective Happiness: Evidence from Ecuador and Russia

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Abstract

Though numerous scholars have studied subjective time, its predictors and effects, the general model considering demographic variables, cultural values and level of wellbeing is not presented. This study seeks to bridge this gap by contributing a comparative study of two very different countries: Ecuador (N=745, aged 19—76, 48.7% male), a Latin American developing country, and Russia (N=428, aged 18—72, 40.2% male), an emerging Eurasian nation. We assumed that temporal focus plays the role of a mediator in the relationship between cultural values and subjective happiness in both countries. To predict the temporal focus (Temporal Focus Scale by Shipp, Edwards, and Lambert, 2009) in both countries, based on the previous literature the study tests the importance of three groups of variables: demographic factors (gender, age, education, income), subjective happiness (Subjective Happiness Scale by Lyubomirsky and Lepper, 1999), and cultural values (Cultural Values Scale by Yoo, Donthu and Lenartowics, 2011). The first stage of analysis involved confirmatory factor analyses and invariance tests for the scales used. Subsequently, multiple regression models made it possible to establish that sociodemographic variables, introduced as covariates, had little influence on the prediction of people's temporal orientation. However, the cultural and psychological variables (long-term orientation, uncertainty avoidance and subjective happiness) introduced as predictors played an important role in the prediction of temporal (current, past and future) focus. Additionally, there are some cultural and psychological predictors of temporal focus specific for each country. Ultimately, structural equation models demonstrated that temporal focus plays the role of the mediator in the relationship between cultural values and subjective happiness in both Ecuador and Russia.

General Information

Keywords: temporal focus, demographics, subjective happiness, cultural values

Journal rubric: Empirical Research

Article type: scientific article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17759/chp.2022180209

Funding. The research was funded by the grant of the Russian Science Foundation No. 22-28-00421, https://rscf.ru/project/22-28-00421/

Received: 04.01.2020

Accepted:

For citation: Zabelina E.V., Cruz-Cárdenas J., Guadalupe-Lanas J., Deyneka O.S. Temporal Focus as a Mediator between Cultural Values and Subjective Happiness: Evidence from Ecuador and Russia. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2022. Vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 82–89. DOI: 10.17759/chp.2022180209.

Full text

Introduction

Temporal focus is one of the constructs for defining a persons’ involvement in their own lifetime, or subjective time. Along with other terms describing subjective time [6; 20; 3; 23; 25; 38], temporal focus is defined as “the allocation of oneꞌs attention to the past, present, and future” [26, p.2]. The generalized profile of orientation to the past, the present and future affect one’s motivation, behavior [6; 25], feelings, emotions [19], subjective wellbeing [20; 26; 36; 38], and even health [34; 38].

Globalization, accelerating the pace of life, causes a person’s priorities regarding time to change [28]. Seeking satisfaction within a rapid stream of events, the individual most often looks for happiness in the present, focusing less on the future or remembering the past [1]. However, for a happy and healthy life, we need to maintain balance in our relationship with time [7; 38], to gather resources from the past, to make plans for the future [36], and to enjoy the present moment [8].

Studies on temporal focus in the period of globalization are limited [28; 30]. Moreover, the interrelation between time perception and cultural values becomes contradictory thanks to the increasing flexibility of our values in the modern world [37]. This study aims to find additional evidence with which to understand the associations between three variables: temporal focus, cultural values, and subjective happiness by using the empirical data from Ecuador and Russia.

Literature Review

Subjective time emerged as a viable research topic several decades ago. Since then, various related constructs have been studied, such as temporal orientation [20], time attitude [25], temporal depth [6], time perspective [7; 23; 38], and temporal focus [26]. In Russian psychology, to define subjective time and its focus, the terms time experience [2], relation to time [3; 5], temporal organization [4] and psychological time [3] are used. In this particular study, in order to explore the features of the subjective time of a person, we focus on the construct of temporal focus [26].

According to Graham, the perception of is “fundamental, and many other perceptions will be biased in one direction or another, depending on a personꞌs perception of time” [13, p. 335], and is associated with one’s social and cultural features, primarily through language [9].

There is substantial evidence that subjective time differs considerably among different cultures [13; 22; 31; 33]. The cultural and social environment in which individuals are embedded influence their perception of time, how they value punctuality [19], the extent to which they focus on the past, present, or future [11; 14], their average overall perspective of the future[18; 29], and polychronicity [15; 32].

One of the most reknowned theories on cultural values is the concept of cultural dimensions by Hofstede [17]. Differences in cultural definitions (uncertainty avoidance, individualism, long-term orientation) across countries [31] suggest an interrelation between cultural dimensions and temporal focus.

The most important aspect of the question being studied is the association of temporal focus and subjective happiness. The data collected in the existing research confirm the interrelation between subjective time and job and life satisfaction, locus of control, and optimism [36]. In addition, there is evidence of an association between both age and gender (sex) and subjective time [12; 16; 27].

Based on the considerations above, the aim of this study is to explore the role of temporal focus in the shaping of subjective happiness in different cultures.

The Study Scenarios

The current study takes place in two countries with different economic, geographical and cultural characteristics: Ecuador and Russia. Ecuador, located in South America, has a population of over 16 million inhabitants and an average age of 27 years. The national index for uncertainty avoidance in Ecuador is rather high (67) [17]. Ecuador is a middle-income developing economy and its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) exceeds USD 100 billion, which corresponds to a per capita GDP of approximately USD 6,000 per year. In contrast, Russia is a Eurasian country, and has a population of approximately 144 million inhabitants, with an average age of 38.9 years. Russia shows high national indices of uncertainty avoidance (95) and long-term orientation (81) [17]. Russia is classified as an emerging economy, and its GDP is 1,540 billion and its per capita annual GDP is USD 10,743.

For this study, the data came from surveys conducted in one large city each for Ecuador and Russia: Quito for Ecuador, which is also its capital, and Chelyabinsk for Russia, which is one of the 10 most populated cities in the country. The study obtained 745 usable questionnaires in Ecuador (48.7% male) and 428 in Russia (40.2% male). 

Methods

The main section of the questionnaire included scales of interest, which were translated from their original English versions, into Spanish and Russian. The Temporal Focus Scale (TFS) of 12 items proposed by Shipp, Edwards, and Lambert [26] was used to measure temporal focus, which consists of three subscales: Past focus, present focus and future focus. The TFS items were rated on a 5-point scale describing the frequency with which the respondent thought about the time frame indicated by the item (1 = never; 3 = frequently; 5 = constantly). For each scale, the integral index was calculated. Past focus indicates a person’s involvement in past memories, present focus indicates a concentration on the events of the present, and future focus shows the tendency toward thinking about the future and how he or she is inclined to make plans and develop strategies in life. The Cultural Values Scale by Yoo, Donthu and Lenartowics [35], developed to measure Hofstede's cultural dimensions at an individual level, was used to measure uncertainty avoidance (5 items) and long-term orientation (6 items) [14]. Respondents were to rate their agreements with the statements on a 5-point scale. (1  - strongly disagree, 2  - neither disagree nor agree, 3 –  strongly agree). Uncertainty avoidance relates to individuals’ reactions to uncertainty and ambiguity; long-term orientation refers to the orientation of individuals and societies towards future rewards, when perseverance and thrift are highly valued. These two scales were chosen because they are directly related to the perception of time, and showed high indices of validity and reliability. Finally, the Subjective Happiness Scale was used, which consists of four items proposed by Lyubomirsky and Lepper [24]. The questionnaire suggests that respondents evaluate their feeling of happiness and/or unhappiness, both independently and in comparison with other people.

The questionnaire applied also included a measurement of the sociodemographic variables of the participants, such as age, gender, income, educational level and occupation. Importantly, the income of the respondents was measured as per capita monthly family income.

For all the calculations and estimations made in the current study, the Stata 15 software was used.

Data Analysis

First, the scales were subjected to exploratory factor analysis with varimax rotation. As a result, it was found that in both countries, most of the results were as expected, with factor loadings equal or greater than 0.40. Only in the cases of items lto2, lto3 of the Cultural Values Scale (the long-term orientation subscale) and hap4 of the Subjective Happiness Scale, these requirements were not met in either of the two countries, so the items were removed. Next, Cronbach’s alpha values were estimated for all the scales used and for each of the countries, being in all cases a coefficient higher than the cut-off point of 0.60, so the reliability of the scales could be considered acceptable.

The next step of data analysis was to submit the scales to confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). In this way, two CFA analyses [10] were carried out. In the first, the model to be tested specified that the two factors from the Cultural Values Scale used in this study, uncertainty avoidance and long-term orientation, correlated with each other. The second model to be tested specified that the Temporal Focus Scale consisting of 3 factors, Past focus, present focus and future focus, correlated with each other. The model is a good fit for both countries for all scales measured. The test of configurational invariance showed an acceptable result [10], and the measurement invariance test supported the configurational invariance for all scales.

Multiple Regression Analysis

As a next step in the data analysis, several multiple regression models were estimated. In these models, the variables to be predicted in each country were three time focuses (present focus, past focus and future focus). The predictor variables were organized around two groups. The first group included the sociodemographic variables (age, gender, income and education) and these variables took on the role of covariates. The second group of variables were cultural and psychological in nature (uncertainty avoidance, long-term orientation and subjective happiness). Due to the non-normality of the data, we estimated robust regressions, which is a more appropriate method in cases like the present one.

In general, it can be observed that sociodemographic variables, introduced as covariates, had little influence on the prediction of people’s temporal orientation. Consistently, for both Ecuador and Russia and in line with previous studies [12], the age of the people was negatively related to future focus. Additionally, gender (male) was positively associated with future focus in Russia and educational level was negatively associated with past focus in Ecuador.

On the other hand, the cultural and psychological variables introduced as predictors played an important role in the prediction of temporal focus. In both Ecuador and  Russia, the cultural value long-term orientation was positively associated with both present focus and future focus. Additionally, uncertainty avoidance was consistently associated (in both Ecuador and Russia) in a positive way with past focus. In contrast, uncertainty avoidance was positively associated with present focus only in Ecuador. Finally, subjective happiness was associated in a positive and consistent way (in both Ecuador and Russia) with present focus. However, subjective happiness was positively associated with future focus in Ecuador and negatively with past focus in Russia.

Structural equations modeling (SEM) of the relationship between cultural values, temporal focus and happiness 

In order to evaluate the possible structural relationship of temporal focus with other constructs, particularly with cultural values and with subjective happiness, a structural equations model was drafted. Therein, it was considered that the cultural values of uncertainty avoidance (UA) and long-term orientation (LTO) were correlated with each other and that they were predictors of past focus (PaF), present focus (PrF) and future focus (FF). In turn, these three temporal orientations were considered as correlated with each other and as predictors of subjective happiness (HAP). This theoretical model is presented in figure 1 and was drafted for Ecuador and Russia.

Fig. 1. Theoretical model on the relationship of cultural values, temporal focus and happiness

The fit indexes of the model for the two countries show that the model fits very well in both cases: Ecuador X2 = 564.658, df  = 239, S-B X2 = 434.441, RMSEA = 0.043, S-B RMSEA = 0.033, CFI = 0.952, S-B CFI =0.962, Russia X2 = 540.388, df  = 239, S-B X2 = 448.840, RMSEA = 0.054, S-B RMSEA = 0.045, CFI = 0.923, S-B CFI =0.934. The group of results is very consistent in both countries. Uncertainty avoidance positively affects past focus, long-term orientation positively affects both present focus and future focus and present focus positively affects subjective happiness. On the other hand, there are also results that are unique for each country. For instance, in Ecuador, uncertainty avoidance has a negative effect on future focus and positive effect on present focus.

Figure 2 presents the standardized results of the model for Ecuador and figure 3 for Russia. If we consider only the paths that were significant in both of the two countries, it can be seen that in Ecuador and Russia, long-term orientation had a strong effect on present focus and future focus. The effect of uncertainty avoidance on past focus was moderate in both countries. Finally, the effect of present focus on happiness was moderate in Ecuador and strong in Russia.

Fig. 2. Standardized results for the structural model in Ecuador

Discussion, Limitations and Conclusions

In general, the research results can be interpreted in line with studies of subjective time in various cultures [17; 22; 29; 31; 33], however, some of the trends revealedcan be explained by a change in people’s consciousness caused by globalization. For instance, people seeking to reduce the  frustrating uncertainty they face in the modern world [21; 28; 30], particularly look to past events which are invariable, and seek happiness in every single moment of their life [21].

The unique associations of cultural values and temporal focus revealed in Ecuador and Russia confirm data on the impact of culture on perception and the experience of time [7]. For example, the lack of conditions of continuous change in Ecuador prevents a future focus and leads to an unwillingness to make long-term plans. Lower future orientation can serve as a kind of psychological protection against rapid variability and the uncertainty of the world around us.

The influence that temporal focus on the present has on subjective happiness is confirmed [20; 26; 38]. However, the results of the regression analysis show specific interrelations between subjective happiness and future focus in Ecuador (positively) and past focus in Russia (negatively). Perhaps,  happiness is supported by optimism and the expectation of “gifts” from the future for residents of Ecuador. On the contrary, an “obsession” with the past, attempts to escape from reality, and nostalgia for old times become an obstacle to happiness for the residents of Russia.

In fact, temporal focus as a representation of subjective time plays the role of a mediator in the relationship between cultural values and subjective happiness in both Ecuador and Russia.

The main research limitation of this study is its focus on only two countries. In future research, the number of countries studied should be broadened in order to confirm the hypothesis of temporal focus’s role in personal wellbeing around the world.

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Information About the Authors

Ekaterina V. Zabelina, PhD in Psychology, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Chelyabinsk State University, Chelyabinsk, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2071-6466, e-mail: katya_k@mail.ru

Jorge Cruz-Cárdenas, PhD, Research Center in Business, Society, and Technology, Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Japan, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4575-6229, e-mail: jorgecruz@uti.edu.ec

Jorge Guadalupe-Lanas, PhD, Research Center in Business, Society, and Technology, Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0882-6694, e-mail: jorgeguadalupe@uti.edu.ec

Olga S. Deyneka, Doctor of Psychology, Professor, Professor of the Department of Political Psychology, Saint-Petersburg State University, St.Petersburg, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8224-2190, e-mail: osdeyneka@yandex.ru

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