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Humans are different from animals in that we don't sense time only as passing. We dice time into units or think of time to go beyond our lifespan, such as millennia. We rely on time concepts that allow us to make plans, follow recipes, and discuss possible futures.
Recent research suggests that across all cultures, the concept of time depends on metaphor, known as a conceptual metaphor. We build our understanding of duration and sequences of events out of familiar spatial ideas such as size, movement, and location.
But the "time is like space" metaphor takes on very different forms from one culture to the next.
Time is difficult to explain, yet we deal with it every day. All people talk of time as "motion on a space," and think of time as linear.
People of all cultures lean on spatial concepts for understanding time, but exactly which spatial metaphors they use can vary.
The parts of the brain used for thinking about space are also used for thinking about time.
Time as space metaphor shows up in our language and gestures, but also in depictions of external sequences of events.
The concept of time reveals the human's capacity for abstract thought. But time is not the only abstract domain, nor the only one we understand through metaphor. Spatial metaphors are very common, structuring how we think about kinship, politics, and power. ("She has the upper hand.")
The particular metaphors we use, however, rely on our culture, not biological evolution.
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In a study, people who see grass as greener on the other side predict higher happiness with future success. Participants that reacted like Aesop's fox would try to distance themselves from failure. It suggests that initial failure made people underestimate how good it would feel to succeed.
Named after "The Fox and the Grapes", the sour-grape effect is a systematic tendency to downplay the value of unattainable goals and rewards. We underestimate our future happiness because we don't always know what we want, and adjust our desires to what appears within reach.
People will rather devalue a goal than devalue the self. It means that people could miss out on the chance to try again because what once seemed impossible might now be within reach.
In a perfect world, we would use both success and failure as instructive lessons. But our brain doesn't learn that way. It learns more from some experiences than others.
A study found that choice had an apparent influence on decision-making. In the studies subjects learned more when they had a free choice and when the choice gave a higher reward.
However, when participants were forced to select a specific choice, they were less invested in the outcomes, similar to a child mindlessly practicing to please a parent.
When people can make a free choice, they embrace positive or negative outcomes that confirm they were right.
Studies show that this tendency persists in both poor and rich conditions. This means the brain is primed to learn with a bias linked to our freely chosen actions. The brain learns differently and more quickly from free choices than forced ones.