The Temporal Doppler Effect
People routinely remember events that have passed and imagine those that are yet to come. The past and the future are sometimes psychologically close (“just around the corner”) and other times psychologically distant (“ages away”). Four studies demonstrate a systematic asymmetry whereby future events are psychologically closer than past events of equivalent objective distance. When considering specific times (e.g., 1 year) or events (e.g., Valentine’s Day), people consistently reported that the future was closer than the past. We suggest that this asymmetry arises because the subjective experience of movement through time (whereby future events approach and past events recede) is analogous to the physical experience of movement through space. Consistent with this hypothesis, experimentally reversing the metaphorical arrow of time (by having participants move backward through virtual space) completely eliminated the past-future asymmetry. We discuss how reducing psychological distance to the future may function to prepare people for upcoming action.