Behavioral Objectives

After reading this chapter, the nurse will be able to:

  • 1.

    Postulate an adequate definition for the term time in relation to transcultural nursing care.

  • 2.

    Understand the significant role that culture plays in the understanding and perception of time.

  • 3.

    Understand the significant role that the developmental process plays in the understanding and perception of time.

  • 4.

    Understand the significance of the measurement of time and the relationship to transcultural nursing care.

  • 5.

    Differentiate the terms social time and clock time.

  • 6.

    Describe the worldview of clock time and social time.

  • 7.

    Define the three broad areas of the structure of social time: temporal patterns, temporal orientation, and temporal perspectives.

Since the beginning of life on earth, time has been the greatest mystery of all. The mystery of time becomes evident as soon as thought is given to the concept. Our experience with time continuously leads us into puzzles and paradoxes. According to the classic work of , it is through an awareness and conception of time that the products of the human mind—that is, time itself—seem to possess an existence apart from time’s passage, which is perceived as personal and inexorable. We measure time, and time measures us. It is this intimate and personal yet aloof and detached character that constitutes the paradox of human time.

Concept of Time

The concept of the passage of time is very familiar to most people regardless of cultural heritage. The days and nights come and go, and with each passing day and night humankind grows older. In today’s highly mechanized world, there are numerous clocks and watches that ceaselessly tick away time and determine the schedules by which hundreds of millions of people live. Thus, it would seem that the concept of the passage of time should be second nature to humankind and thoroughly understood by all people ( ).

However, developing an awareness of the concept of time is not a simple phenomenon but a gradual process ( ). Most people, regardless of cultural heritage, remember a time when their perception of the passage of time was altered. Such occasions might have been during times of boredom or of highly emotional and stressful events. During these events time might have seemed to have passed very slowly, or it might have seemed to have passed all too quickly. It must be remembered that a sense of time is not innate but is developed early as a result of everyday experiences that are common to all people. Thus, a sense of time results from learning. It becomes a part of human nature before one is conscious of its presence. Even infants perceive the essence of time. Infants are fed on demand or according to a strict timetable and experience the succession of day by night. Infants are thereby exposed to regular rhythmic changes that are reflected in rhythmic changes in bodily conditions, including being sated, awake, or asleep. Thus, one phenomenon of time is its association with rhythm and change.

Infants grow, develop, and begin to move through crawling. The speed with which crawling occurs determines the time it takes to get from one place to another. Thus, even this simple task makes individuals aware that time is associated with speed and velocity, which is the second phenomenon of time. As individuals grow older, they learn speech as they listen to stories that begin with “once upon a time.” It is through these storytelling sessions that children learn that things did happen before they were born; thus, time is associated with history and goes backward as well as forward with the succession of events. As the growth and development of the child continue, an awareness of punctuality is developed. Children may be punished for being slow or late, and regardless of their reaction to it, the punishment contributes to the formation of character and the development of the understanding of time. Therefore, the third phenomenon of time is its association with social behavior ( ).

The child begins to become conscious of time and asks questions such as “Where was I before I was born?” and “What did God do before He created the world?” and “What will happen to me after I die?” Such questions lead to an understanding that time is associated with philosophy and religion. Children are taught to read time on a clock, and as they grow to adulthood, they learn that the clock is ubiquitous and that life is governed by the clock. Thus, there is an erroneous identification of time with the clock. Through questioning, individuals begin to contemplate existence on earth and to develop an understanding that time is associated with something external over which there is no control and that appears absolute ( ; ).

Developing an understanding of the definition of time by looking at the developmental process is clearly too simple. The development of the awareness of time is directly influenced by earlier ideas and prejudices that are mostly unconscious. However, because it is the nature of humankind to have a questioning frame of mind, ideas and prejudices may become conscious.

Other considerations concerning time include the question of whether time is concrete or abstract. Time is perceived as real in the sense of being concrete and having direct effects, or it is regarded as not real in the sense of being abstract. The mathematical and physical sciences adopt the view that time is an abstract dimension with only a locational or reference function ( ). On the other hand, the biological sciences adopt the view that time is an essential ingredient in many life and behavioral processes, such as gestation, healing, and metamorphosis. This difference in conceptualization of time may be related to an obvious difference between the physical and biological sciences and how each treats the concept of entropy. For the physical sciences, entropy, or randomness, continuously increases over time, whereas the biological sciences see organization, structure, and information residing within the organism and in the organism’s relation to its environment as increasing over time.

Measurement of Time

Time has two distinct, although related, meanings. The first meaning is that of duration, which is an interval of time. The second meaning is that of specified instances, or points in time. These two meanings are related because a point in time is identified as being the end of a time interval that starts at an arbitrary or fixed reference point, such as the founding of Rome or the birth of Christ. Thus, if one asks the question “What is the time?” and the answer given is “It is 10:00 a.m.,” this answer refers to a point in time. At the same time, the answer refers to a time interval, since it indicates the time from a certain reference point, which in this case is midnight the previous night ( ; ). The two meanings are quite different and must not be confused with each other. Measuring devices are meant to determine intervals of time, and clocks and watches are designed to read direct points in time. Clocks and watches therefore have to be standardized against a standard clock. The purpose of a standard clock is to measure accurately the time interval up to the present time. This phenomenon goes back to one universal standard clock against which all standard clocks are calibrated.

The purpose of a universal standard clock is to define operational time in terms of both time interval and point in time ( ). The purpose of measuring devices is to define time; however, people need to have intuitive ideas about time to specify the properties of the instrument. Measuring devices of a phenomenon such as time are more accurate than measuring devices of some other phenomena. For example, if a person wanted to measure the weight of another person, this weight could be defined operationally as a point or reading on a scale. Thus a good scale would give accurate weight, just as any good clock would give accurate time. On the other hand, if an individual wanted to define a person’s intelligence quotient (IQ) as the score obtained on an intelligence test but there was no general agreement about what constituted intelligence and what constituted a good intelligence test, the scores would not be so relevant or so meaningful as the weight or time measures.

Throughout the history of humankind, there have been two obvious standards of time: the day and the year. The day is a remarkably easy period of time to recognize because of the experience of daylight and darkness, which result from the earth’s spinning on its axis. The year is also easy to recognize because of the passage of the seasons, which are caused by the tilting of the earth’s axis. Thus, a day is the period of time required for one complete revolution of the earth about its axis, whereas a year is the time taken for the earth to move one complete revolution around the sun, which takes just under 365.25 days. Therefore, it is completely natural that we choose to mark the passage of time by first marking the days and then marking the years. Time measurement during the day has been divided into hours, and the hours in turn have been divided by 60 to give minutes. The minutes have been divided by 60 to give seconds.

Very early in the history of civilization, the middle of each day was determined as the point when the sun was at its highest point during the day. This point was defined as noon, and clocks were made to read 12 when it occurred. Thus, if it is noon in one place, it is midnight at the opposite side of the earth and different times at other places on the earth. To understand how time varies, the earth must be viewed as a circle that passes through both the North Pole and the South Pole.

Traditionally in science, Greenwich, the observatory in London, has been taken to have 0 degrees of longitude; the longitudes of all other places on Earth are given as so many degrees east or west of Greenwich. Therefore, one half of the earth’s surface has a longitude of up to 180 degrees east of Greenwich, whereas the other half has a longitude of up to 180 degrees west of Greenwich. The times of all places east of Greenwich are ahead of that of Greenwich, and the times of all places west of Greenwich lag behind that of Greenwich. For example, if a person started from Greenwich and traveled eastward to a longitude of 45 degrees, the time would be 3 hours ahead of Greenwich time. The converse is that if a person started at Greenwich and traveled westward to a longitude of 180 degrees, the time would be 12 hours behind that of Greenwich. In simpler terms, if it is 2 a.m. on Sunday morning at Greenwich, it is 2 p.m. on Sunday at a longitude 180 degrees east of Greenwich and 2 p.m. on Saturday at a longitude 180 degrees west of Greenwich ( ).

This phenomenon of time presents some interesting effects on persons who travel great distances. For example, it is possible for an international traveler to have two birthdays (birthday anniversaries); that is, if a person crosses the international date line traveling eastward at 2 a.m. Sunday morning, at which point it suddenly becomes 2 a.m. Saturday, that person has Saturday all over again and thus is able to celebrate the birthday again. If this same international traveler who is about to celebrate a birthday on Saturday leaves from the point of origin at 2 a.m. on Saturday but crosses the international date line westward, the traveler suddenly finds that it is 2 a.m. Sunday morning, and apparently almost the entire day of Saturday and the birthday have been missed ( ).


According to historians and philosophers, the earliest clocks were undoubtedly sundials of various kinds, which were probably followed by devices that used the regular flow of a substance such as water, oil, or sand, or the steady combustion of oil or candles. The earliest clocks have been dated back to 1600 b . c . in Egypt, and clocks were used throughout classical times and the Middle Ages.

The thirteenth century saw the invention of a rhythmic motion clock, which was a sawtoothed crown wheel. However, the most important development in clock construction occurred with the introduction of the pendulum, which was discovered by Galileo in 1581. Galileo found that a swinging pendulum would readily tick away a unit of time by a specific number of swings and that even if the swings gradually died, the unit of time would remain relatively unaffected. Thus, for the first time in history, time was measured more accurately.

Tropical Years

An important distinction that scientists have made is the difference between a calendar year and a tropical year. According to scientists, a calendar year consists of 365 days, whereas a tropical year consists of 365.242199 solar days. (The word tropical in this instance has nothing to do with a hot climate.) The difference between these two numbers (tropical year and calendar year) is the reason for the necessity of leap years. Time that is based on the length of a tropical year is called ephemeris time . One tropical year is defined in terms of having 31,556,925.9747 seconds. Today, atomic clocks have replaced the old, outdated pendulum and weight- and gravity-driven clocks. Atomic clocks are so accurate that in due course scientists speculate that the difference between atomic time and ephemeris time will become very apparent. In fact, atomic clocks are said to be 10 million times more accurate than any other clock on earth and are never more than 1 billionth of a second off. Atomic clocks are considered to be so accurate that the exact second of an event can be obtained at the time of the event.

Solar Time

Solar time is perhaps the earliest way that time was measured ( ). Solar time considers a focal point, 12:00 noon, which is precisely the point at which the sun passes directly overhead (vertically above the meridian). The time between successive crossings of the sun directly over the same meridian is called a solar day . However, this measurement of time is not without its problems. When days are measured in this way, they turn out to be not exactly constant. A solar day varies slightly in length throughout the year because of the orbiting of the earth around the sun.

The concept of solar time has many implications for nurses who work at extreme southern or northern points of the earth—for example, at the North or South Pole. A nurse working in the northernmost part of Canada may find Indians operating on “Indian time” because the sun remains up during most of the summer and down during much of the winter. Activities requiring daylight can therefore be done anytime during a 24-hour period. Staying up much of the night and sleeping in the daytime is consistent with an orientation to do what feels right at the present time. On the other hand, “White man’s time” is more future oriented and adheres to clocks and schedules rather than to the sun ( ; ; ). Generally, Whites who have not grown up in the northernmost part of Canada but have relocated to this area tend to work during familiar working hours and to sleep during familiar sleeping hours. However, this pattern may not necessarily correlate with the same time orientation for others who are native to the northernmost part of Canada.


Inventing a simple yet efficient calendar has presented difficulties since the invention of the first calendar. Scientists believe that these difficulties lie in the fact that the three obvious periods are due to the rotation of the earth about the sun. These three revolutional periods are not simply related one to the other. In fact, they have obvious differences. For example, 1 tropical year equals 365.224 solar days, and 1 month is considered to be the observed time between one full moon and the next, or 29.5306 solar days.

Throughout history we have measured time by counting the months and the calendar years and combining the two. However, this combination of months and years has proved to be most confusing. Even if we ignored the moon, there would still be the problem of the solar year not being a whole number of days, although this problem has conceivably been dealt with by the system of leap years. With so many different civilizations contributing to the development of the calendar, it is no wonder that we are left with a complicated system that children and even adults, regardless of ethnic or cultural heritage, find difficult to remember or understand. Many of the significant events linked with the calendar can be traced to specific persons in history, such as Julius Caesar, who decreed that months should alternately have 30 and 31 days with the exception of February (which at that time was the last month of the Roman calendar). Historians believe that all would have been well with the calendar if Julius Caesar had not decided to call the fifth month Julius in his honor. The problem began when Augustus followed Julius Caesar and also wanted a month. He promptly chose the month that followed Julius and named it “Augustus.” However, he very soon realized that his month was shorter than Julius Caesar’s month and promptly took a day from February, added it to his month, and readjusted the rest of the year. The result was that there were three long months in succession, that is, June, July, and August. Even today, because of the vanity of Emperor Augustus, children continue to chant, “Thirty days hath September.”

According to the earlier decree by Julius Caesar, September would have been an alternate month with 31 days if August had been given 30 days as originally planned ( ). Although there have been attempts over the past 50 years to standardize the calendar by international agreement through the United Nations, these attempts have uniformly failed. For example, the day that is considered the beginning of the New Year in the United States is January 1, but the beginning of the New Year is different in many countries.

Social Time Versus Clock Time

The word time immediately presents an image of a clock or calendar. However, the term social time is not equivalent with clock time. Social time refers to patterns and orientations that relate to social processes and to the conceptualization and ordering of social life. For centuries, many of the great thinkers have argued that social time must be distinguished from clock time. As early as 1910, Henri Bergson insisted that the homogeneous time of Newtonian physics was not the time that revealed the essence of humankind. On the other hand, Phillip , an anthropologist, showed that an Indian wake could be meaningfully analyzed in terms of “gathering time,” “prayer time,” “singing time,” “intermission time,” and “meal time.” None of these times has a particular relationship to clock time. They all simply imply the passage of the mourner from one time to another by consensual feelings rather than by the clock.

According to some sociologists, certain kinds of psychological disorders may be viewed in terms of the individual living wholly in the present, the implication being that the past and the future are completely severed from consciousness. The difference, therefore, between social time and clock time is that the former is a more inclusive concept whereas the latter may or may not be. conducted a study on Mexican Americans and proposed that Mexican Americans have a present-time orientation that may account for the tendency to be late for appointments. It is believed that present-time orientation, particularly in high-risk settings such as mental health facilities, may result in a crisis approach rather than a preventive one. For example, a client who has an immediate need at home may be late for appointments at the clinic or hospital or may miss them altogether. The nurse should also keep in mind that clients with a present-time orientation may be reluctant to leave an appointment simply because the time is up.

This same lack of correlation between social time and clock time can be seen in mystical beliefs. According to mystical thought, magic can be used to negate the temporal order that infers causality. For example, an Indian warrior who is wounded by an arrow may attend to his pain by hanging the arrow up where it is cool or by applying ointment to the arrow. What the Indian warrior is attempting to do is to reverse the clock time—that is, wrench the present back into the past to alter the course of events. For people who have mystical beliefs, temporal intervals are not simple, homogeneous series; rather, they contain an inherent quality and meaning or an essence and efficacy of their own ( ). Therefore, the objectivity represented by clock time is unknown to a person with mystical beliefs.

Many sociologists believe that people who lack or minimize clock time also lack regularity or temporal measurement. The natural and social phenomena may dictate regularity and measurement. provides several examples of natural events that have been used to time human activities: (1) the arrival of the cranes in ancient Greece marked the time for planting; (2) the return of the swallow marked the time for the end of pruning; (3) the South African Bushmen note the rising of Sirius and Canopus and are able to depict the progress of winter by the movement of these celestial bodies across the night sky.

Archaeologists have been able to piece together the history of humankind by measuring the passage of time, using the method of geologists. This measure of time is based on rates of deposits to and erosion of natural early elements. An example of this kind of measurement is tree-ring chronology ( ).

Worldview of Social Time Versus Clock Time

People throughout the world view social time and clock time differently ( ). For example, noted that the division of time by weeks reflects social conditions rather than mechanical Newtonian divisions. Most societies have some kind of week, but the weeks vary in length from 3 to 16 or more days. In most cases, weeks reflect the cycle of market activities. The Khasi people have an 8-day week because they hold market every eighth day, and they have named the days of the week after the places where the principal markets occur ( ).

Some cultural groups exhibit a social time that not only is different from clock time but also is actually scornful of clock time. For example, there are peasants in Algeria who live with a total indifference to the passage of clock time and who despise haste in human affairs. They have no notion of exact appointment times, they lack exact times for eating meals, and they have labeled the clock as the “devil’s mill” ( ). Some Amish keep “slow time.” When those around them adjust their time to go from daylight savings time to standard time, the Amish set clocks a half-hour ahead ( ; ; ; ). This has important implications for the nurse who is trying to emphasize the importance of keeping medical appointments.

Despite the way people in various cultures view clock time as opposed to social time, the nurse must remember that clock time should not be regarded as unimportant or irrelevant. Although for some people in some cultural groups there is no necessary correlation of clock time and social time, clock time does not take on paramount importance in a social context such as the modern Western world, where the watch or the clock can become something of a tyrant. In Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver never did anything without looking at his watch, which he called his “oracle.” He said that his watch pointed out the time for every action of his life. Because of Gulliver’s obsession with his watch, the Lilliputians concluded that the watch was Gulliver’s god.

Aside from literature, many actual examples of human obsessive behavior in regard to clock time can be found. wrote that he was exactly 43 years old and had probably only 227,760 hours to live, and he proceeded to detail how he would maximize the use of those remaining hours of his life. He concluded that if he reduced his sleep time from 8 hours to 6 hours, the 2 hours a day saved from sleeping would amount to 18,980 hours over a period of 26 years. If this savings were converted into 18-hour days, which is the equivalent of about 2 years and 11 months, he could virtually lengthen his remaining time alive by 2 years and 11 months. This example illustrates how human life can be turned into a lengthy succession of minutes and hours, with the individual’s existence reduced to a compulsive and frantic effort to avoid waste.

conducted a study of the role of time in television news work. They found that time is a major factor in the production of unscheduled “hard” news. The definition for “hard” news refers to events such as fires, homicides, and accidents, which have a certain urgency to them. They summarized the findings of their research in three propositions. In the first proposition they concluded that the news value of an event is directly proportional to the time invested in covering it. An event may turn out to be relatively minor in the sense of not involving the trauma or shock value that was anticipated, but this factor is not considered when a news crew has invested time in the event, and the story is likely to be used in the evening news program anyway. They found in the second proposition that what is considered news by the news crew depends on when it happens and how long it lasts. Although viewers tend to believe that what they see on the evening news is a compilation of the universal news events for that particular day, what is telecast each evening is actually a compilation of news events that the news crew was able to learn about, get a story line on, capture on film, and then process and edit on film. The researchers found in the third proposition that bias in the news reflects occupational assumptions and temporal constraints more than it does the political or social views of the news crew. More important than political and social biases are the assumptions that the news crew makes about what will make good news on television and the severe time constraints on those persons assigned to locate film and write about events in time for the evening news program. The researchers concluded that because of deadline pressures, it is inevitable that events are reduced to surface actions and that the visuals seen each evening are of only the most dramatic events.

In today’s modern technological society, clock time is of paramount importance. However, we must remember that even in a modern society the clock may be a relatively peripheral part of social life. Not all people in a modern technological society function under the inevitable tyranny of the clock. In a survey of a representative sample of the French population, approximately 21% of the respondents indicated a belief that there was no urgency about being punctual and also stated that they had not experienced the feeling of wasting time ( ). It is the perception of some people in some cultural groups that there is little correlation between being punctual and wasting time ( ). Hein further postulated that assumptions and definitions in regard to time are determined by culture and cultural variables and are reflected in interactions with others, personal views concerning punctuality, use or waste of time, and value and respect for time or a lack thereof. Waiting is a cultural counterpart to time because a particular behavior, person, or event is anticipated within a particular time frame. Waiting may have a meaning similar to that of time for some African-American clients. The nurse may schedule an appointment for an African-American client and wait for the client to arrive for the appointment. However, the client may not arrive for several hours, or perhaps even a few days, because of other important issues that in the client’s mind took precedence over the appointment. Although the nurse viewed this time as waiting and therefore wasting time, the client for whom the appointment was made was not wasting time ( ).

In some cultures, for example, among some persons of Asian origin, time is viewed as flexible, and so there is no need to hurry or be punctual except in extremely important cases. Asians may spend hours getting to know people and view predetermined abrupt endings as rude ( ). Nonetheless, the nurse should emphasize the importance of keeping scheduled appointments. Hispanics or Latinos as well often have difficulty with scheduled appointments and are sometimes said to be on “Latin time.” However, this is sometimes explained by Hispanics as the result of consideration for others who were not ready to leave for the appointment ( ; ; ).

In the American nursing profession, many nurses have related professionalism and success in their careers to a sense of precision about clock time. For example, in many health care facilities, a medication error is considered to occur when a medication is not given within 30 minutes of the prescribed time, even when the medication is given daily and is not a time-released medication. Thus the nurse must complete a medication error form for not giving a routine daily medication such as a vitamin or laxative, which is neither time released nor urgent.

Most agencies relate medication errors to disciplinary action and dismissal. In some facilities the nurse is expected to complete all morning or evening care in a precise time frame, even though many clients may not operate in the same time sphere as the facility schedule for client care. For example, a client may become upset when the night nurse refuses to help the client to shower at 3 a.m. because showering is a stated day-shift activity. In this case the client may be used to starting the day at 3 a.m. and unwilling to wait until 7 a.m. to do so. Another example is early-morning vital signs, which may be taken by the night nurse to facilitate a timely assessment of the client’s condition for the physician who makes early morning rounds. The client may be annoyed at being awakened for such a brief procedure and then instructed by the nurse to return to sleep.

According to analysis of the temporal order of the hospital, any unit of clock time is equal to any other unit, whether one is talking about minutes, hours, days, or weeks. However, Zerubavel concluded that different days mean quite different things to different people. Because people perceive days differently, it is important to remember that some days are more or less desirable for some people. For example, some health care personnel may perceive the fact of working two weekends in succession as unfair. Similarly, evening or night duty is usually considered less desirable than day duty. Thus it is important for hospital administrators to understand the necessity for fairness in scheduling. Some hospitals have a policy that all personnel are expected to work their share of the less desirable times. In other hospitals the staff are paid differentials for working what are perceived as the less desirable times—that is, evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays.

Structure of Social Time

The structure of social time is a complex phenomenon. To understand it, three broad areas of social time must be analyzed: temporal pattern, temporal orientation, and temporal perspective.

Temporal Pattern

identified the temporal pattern of social time as one of the most important aspects of ecological organization. He concluded that there are five basic elements in the temporal pattern of any social phenomenon: periodicity, tempo, timing, duration, and sequence.


Periodicity refers to the various rhythms of social life and is characterized by activities related to both the needs and the activities of people. For example, every community has a functional routine that is supposedly peculiar to that community, such as the search for food, shelter, and mates, which occurs more or less with regular periodicity. People also have transcendental needs that are pursued with regular periodicity. For example, people may attend church weekly in pursuit of satisfying transcendental needs. Even physical functions of the body occur in a periodic manner. There are cyclical variations in physiological functions of the body, such as body temperature, blood pressure, and pulse.

In a classic study, studied the behavior patterns of migrant workers and found several daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms that were germane to their existence. Nelkin concluded that these migrant workers seemed to alternate between compact and diffuse time. Migrant time was seen to be very present-oriented, irrational, and highly personal. Nelkin concluded that migrant time was in sharp contrast to the typical time perception, which was future-oriented, rational, and impersonal. Findings from the study indicate that social time for the migrants differed because it was a series of disconnected periods rather than a continuous and predictable process, which in part accounted for maladaptive behaviors such as excessive drinking, gambling, volatile social relationships, and apathy.

Periodicity is also considered important at the managerial level. An important aspect of managerial life concerns the periodicity of meetings. For example, it is inappropriate for managers of a volunteer organization to plan frequent meetings for the membership. It is believed that a volunteer organization can engage in systematic self-destruction and ensure itself of a high turnover of membership if the group seeks to gather its members too often. These organizations must justify their demands on the members’ time and at the same time create the novelty necessary to maintain the interest of the membership. In contrast to this are nonvoluntary groups, such as those that are part of a job assignment. For example, in nursing administration, regular meetings are necessary as part of the required management structure and are not usually planned with the intent of being novel and interesting. Because the management structure requires regular meetings, the meetings are planned regardless of specific agenda items.

Periodicities are also noted at the individual level. It is believed that when people are able to control their own work patterns (periodicity), satisfaction and productivity are maximized ( ). Some individuals spontaneously choose to alternate bouts of intense work with periods of idleness.

It is important for the manager to realize that productivity is cyclic and that equal periods of productivity cannot always be maintained. For example, after a period in which a nursing care unit experiences high client acuity, necessitating an extremely heavy work load for staff, employees will need to recover with a period of less intense pressure. It is unwise to follow a period of high acuity with another assignment that requires major time on the task. However, some work environments by their very nature cannot provide for individual periodicity. For example, industrial workers often must work at a continuous rhythmic pace, such as that seen on an automobile assembly line.

To understand periodicity, the nurse must remember that it is an important aspect of human life and the first aspect of the temporal pattern. Periodicity therefore refers to the recurrence of a social phenomenon with some kind of regularity that can be measured by clock time or by comparison of the social phenomenon with other social phenomena.


Tempo is the second aspect of the temporal pattern and refers to rate ( ; ). Tempo may refer to the frequency of activities in some unit of social time or to the rate of change of some phenomenon. An example is the industrialization of the United States, which differs from that of Russia and China because of different rates ( ; ). In a study done by the Southern Illinois University Foundation ( ), it was suggested that one major problem among Vietnam veterans resulted from the rapidity with which they were brought home. The study concluded that the sudden transition from combat back to the United States by way of jet flights required a psychological adjustment that was often quite traumatic for these veterans.

Tempo also includes perceived rapidity of time and experience and the rapidity of various modes of social life, such as urban versus rural and work versus leisure. For example, the tempo of life in a large city such as Chicago or New York is much different from the tempo of life in a small, rural Midwestern town. Thus a person who relocates may have difficulty adjusting to the different tempo.

Tempo has several important consequences at the individual level because control of the tempo of one’s work seems to be important for a healthful self-concept ( ). The tempo of change in social order appears to be related to emotional health; thus, the more rapid the change, the greater the stress of the individual. This thought became the theme of Alvin , who coined the term future shock —the psychological disruptions that result from experiencing too much change in too short a time. An example of this is noted with Japanese people, who traditionally have had to change their culture and society at a very rapid pace. The very rapid tempo of the deliberate transformation of the Meiji era in Japan produced considerable stress for the Japanese people. Some historians have concluded that the 1878 revolution in Japan did save Japan from Western domination, but the generations that followed experienced the brunt of the hectic rate of change and suffered extraordinary mental agonies as a result of these forced changes ( ).


Timing is the third element in the temporal pattern and is referred to as synchronization . Timing involves the adjustment of various social units and processes with each other. The necessity for synchronization has led to the emphasis on clock time in modern society. Timing can be a crucial factor in the initiation of planned social changes and is of obvious importance in numerous social contexts, such as industrial processes, military campaigns, and political campaigns. A presidential candidate who supports a particular view that is not popular or timely may lose an election but win at a later time when the view becomes popular or another view emerges. For example, Richard Nixon ran for president of the United States in 1960 and lost. Eight years later he ran for president again at the height of the Vietnam War, and because the issue of the war was a timely one, he campaigned on this issue and won. Success is related to being at the right place at the right time with popular ideas.

Another example of the importance of timing is provided by research data on institutionalized disturbed children. These children, because of their psychological limitations, can be permitted to engage in activities such as competitive sports for only limited amounts of time. The restrictions on time are necessary because the process of the game and the psychological processes can mesh for only limited periods of time before the two processes begin to conflict and lead to destructive behavior ( ).

Some researchers have concluded that one of the most serious problems of the modern American family is the difficulty of synchronizing family life because of the diverse activities in which each member is engaged. Another difficulty that has emerged over the years lies in the efforts of rural immigrants to adjust to the stringent demands of industrial life. Some researchers have suggested that habitual functioning of these rural immigrants must be synchronized with the industrial process and that such synchronization disallows the individual’s self-actualization.


Duration is the fourth element of the temporal pattern. It has been the concern of psychologists more than it has been the concern of sociologists. The psychological concern about duration is related to the duration of which the individual is conscious, or to what has been referred to as the “spacious present.” According to the classic early work of , one of the early writers in the field of social psychology, longer or shorter periods are conceived symbolically by adding to or dividing the vaguely bound unit that is the spacious present.

Duration has significance beyond the psychological level, however. Some noted sociologists have set forth a number of laws that relate to duration and behavior in organizations ( ). Parkinson developed the laws of triviality and delay. The law of triviality states that the amount of time spent on any item in the agenda of an organizational meeting is inversely proportional to the money involved with that item. People may quibble far more about an item costing $50 than about an item costing $10,000. For example, in professional staff meetings at a state psychiatric hospital, an inordinate amount of time was spent discussing the purchase of a 75-cent plastic receptacle for holding clients’ personal items such as toothbrushes and soap. A year later, when some plastic lids were missing, several meetings were devoted to developing a strategic nursing procedure for safeguarding these “valuable plastic receptacles.” The policy developed to safeguard these receptacles mandated that the staff send a written requisition to the director of nursing, who in turn was required to write a written justification for replacement of the receptacle or the lid. The law of delay asserts that delay is the deadliest form of denial. In addition, duration is perceived as a useful variable.

Researchers continue to investigate the effects of various phenomena such as perceived importance of time, anxiety, and boredom on the perception of time. For example, researchers have concluded that workers’ morale may be improved if time is subjectively made to pass more quickly and if there are several methods whereby the apparent length of a period of time can be manipulated ( ).


Sequence is the fifth element of the temporal pattern and is derived from the fact that there are activities requiring order. An obvious evidence of the utility of sequence is the measuring of values. For example, work before play is an ordering of activities that reflects a valuing hierarchy. In a classic 1972 study, measured values relating to physical activities, theoretical–scientific interests, and aesthetic interests, and found that study participants made similar choices on both time and money scales. Friedman concluded that when cost and time are equalized, similar preferential orderings are made for various activities.

In modern American society, time is indeed money. It is conceivable, however, that the sequential ordering of activities may reflect necessity rather than values as an industrial process. Conflict may also arise over whether the sequence actually does represent necessity rather than values. Generally, this kind of conflict is more common in organizational settings in which disputes arise over the necessity of sequential orderings that are demanded by bureaucratic rules.

Finally, sequential ordering may reflect habit. Rituals of primitive societies are ordered in accordance with custom. Modern rituals also fall in this category, even though some are more appropriately viewed as reflections of values. For example, the ritual of a man removing his hat before entering a room or elevator is a habitual sequence. However, the ritual of the same man removing his hat before the national anthem is played is a sequence demanded by values.

Temporal Orientation

Temporal orientation refers to the ordering of past, present, and future and to the fact that individuals and groups may be differentiated according to whether behavior is primarily related to the past, present, or future. Psychologists and sociologists, however, have raised objections to this particular ordering. One objection is that past, present, and future are perceived to make up an organic whole that cannot be separated ( ; ). A second objection involves variations in the ordering of past, present, and future among various groups. For example, the argument is made that an actor’s orientation to a situation always contains an “expectancy aspect,” which implies that all orientations are to a future state of a situation as well as to the present. However, this may be true only in a limited sense because actors generally do not anticipate their demise in the situation. It is also untrue that orientation to the future is a universal and inherent aspect of all social action.

Future orientation refers to the fact that the future is a dominant factor in present behavior, and as such this kind of orientation is by no means universal. For example, the Navajo Indians’ view of time does not include the expectancy aspect. In years past, efforts to get the Navajo Indians to engage in range control and soil conservation programs were extremely frustrating for government employees because the Navajos simply do not have a view of temporality that would lead them to act on the basis of an expected future ( ). For the Navajo people the only real time, like the only real space, is that which is here and now ( ). For some Navajo Indians there is little reality of the future; thus the promise of future benefits is not worth thinking about ( ). It is important for the nurse to remember that the way in which a society, group, or individual orders past, present, or future will be consequential for behavior.

argued in their classic work that the knowledge of rank ordering of these three modes can tell much about a social unit and the direction of change for that unit. Some Americans have typically placed a dominant emphasis on the future, which does not imply that they ignore either the past or the present. Although there are some undesirable connotations for the label “old fashioned,” few Americans express total contentment with the present state of affairs. According to Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, American values change easily as long as the change does not contradict what is perceived as the American way of life. There is a direct relationship between the extended future orientation and the amount of change. However, the change perceived is not expected to be the kind that threatens the existing order.

Generally speaking, resistance to change should be expected where there is a past orientation. Thus it should be expected that serious problems would arise in efforts to industrialize a society that lacks a future orientation. For example, in a classic 1953 study, found that among the Chippewa Indians, who traditionally lack any concern for the future, there were serious problems when attempts were made to industrialize their work. Ritzenhaler also noted that the Chippewa Indians quit work as soon as they had sufficient money for immediate needs.

Temporal orientations are not immutable; they can change, and along with change come various behavioral changes. Therefore, a shift of orientation to the present may have significant consequences in several contexts ( ). For example, in a crowd situation the orientation may be drawn to the present, wherein some of the typical behaviors of crowds may manifest themselves as overreacting behaviors, such as struggling at a department store sale, racing to the exit doors in a fire, or panicking in an airplane during turbulence. Similarly, in a marriage or relationship where the partners perceive the relationship to be of uncertain duration, they may begin to act in accordance with feelings rather than stable values. For example, one of the partners may transfer joint banking accounts and charge card accounts to individual status. In other words, when situations are structured so that people function in a present orientation that lacks future and past orientations, a variety of self-destructive and self-limiting behaviors may result.

Whenever a change is anticipated, individuals or groups may resist orientation to the change, and serious consequences generally follow. The intermingling of traditional orientation, which is somewhat past-oriented, with the pressures manifested by modernization, which may be somewhat present- or future-oriented, may cause societal agony. For example, many problems arose in a factory in Cantal, Guatemala, because the management refused to be sensitive to market variations or to the problem of obsolete equipment ( ). Worse situations occurred in Iran, which is a past-oriented society. In past-oriented societies, the past is of primary importance and the future of minimal significance. In Iran, businessmen invested considerable sums of money in factories without any real plan for how to use these factories ( ).

Temporal orientation is an important variable in societal behavior and is also significant at the societal level. Some psychological studies indicate that temporal orientation may be directly related to various kinds of emotional disorders, such as alcoholism, and to certain kinds of deviant behaviors, such as juvenile delinquency.

Temporal Perspective

Temporal perspective refers to the image of past, present, and future that prevails in a society, a social group, or individuals. The rank ordering of past, present, and future is of significance, yet it is insignificant in gaining an adequate understanding of social time. For example, if a particular group is future-oriented—that is, it ranks the future highest in its hierarchy of values—its behavior will depend largely on the way it perceives the future. If people in a society perceive that they may be extinct in the future, efforts may be made to ensure survival. The converse of this is that if people in a society perceive that they do not have a future (e.g., they will be eradicated in a nuclear holocaust), they may adopt a present orientation, desiring to live life now to its fullest. An excellent example of this is found with the dying client’s perception of time. For the dying client, living in the present is very important; however, the nurse should recognize other realms of time perception. The nurse should ascertain precisely how the client views the past, present, and future because these views may assist the nurse in helping the client cope with death and the challenges faced in the process ( ). An image of the future functions to direct present behavior in accordance with specific values, and some sociologists view a society as being magnetically pulled toward a future fulfillment of its own image of the future as well as being pushed from behind by its past ( ).

A future orientation to illness, disease, and health care is essential to preventive medicine. Actions are taken in the present to safeguard the future, particularly regarding certain disease conditions, such as using condoms to prevent acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), practicing safe sex, adhering to a diet to prevent elevated cholesterol or blood glucose levels, not driving while under the influence of alcohol, and using seat belts.

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Dec 29, 2019 | Posted by in NURSING | Comments Off on Time
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