Flow and structure of time experience – concept, empirical validation and implications for psychopathology

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 19 (2):235-258 (2020)
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We present a conceptual framework on the experience of time and provide a coherent basis on which to base further inquiries into qualitative approaches concerning time experience. We propose two Time-Layers and two Time-Formats forming four Time-Domains. Micro-Flow and Micro-Structure represent the implicit phenomenal basis, from which the explicit experiences of Macro-Flow and Macro-Structure emerge. Complementary to this theoretical proposal, we present empirical results from qualitative content analysis obtained from 25 healthy participants. The data essentially corroborate the theoretical proposal. With respect to Flow, the phenomenally accessible time experience appeared as a continuous passage reaching from the past through the present into the future. With respect to Structure, the individual present was embedded in the individual biography, emerging from past experiences and comprising individual plans and goals. New or changing plans and goals were being integrated into the existing present, thus forming a new present. The future appeared as changeable within the present, by means from the past, and therefore as a space of potential opportunities. Exemplarily, we discuss these results in relation to previous empirical findings on deviant experiences of time in Autism Spectrum Disorder that is presumably characterized by a breakdown of Flow and concomitant compensatory repetition resulting in an overly structured time. Finally, we speculate about possible implications of these findings both for psychopathological and neuroscientific research.



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