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A QUALITATIVE EXPLORATION OF SOCIO-TEMPORAL MENTAL SCHEMAS TO INVESTIGATE MEANING-MAKING ON A WORLDVIEW LEVEL. The novel socio-temporal matrix as a tool for holistic self-reflection. For an example of application/intervention, see THE NOVEL SELF-REFLECTION TOOL.


Need for increased agency

We live in a global world, but identifying with thoughts about distant social and temporal perspectives as, for example, including all future humanity in one’s worldview, seems to represent a challenge. To date, no research established the matrix-organized interdependencies of the intra-, inter-, and extra-personal aspects together with the past, present, and future in a single framework. However, there would be good reasons for doing so.

Using a qualitative approach, the socio-temporal mental schemas of fourteen expert interviewees between thirty-six and seventy-two years have been explored. Thematic analysis identified three themes: (1) Learning from the intra-past, (2) (over-)identification with the inter-present, and (3) rewards from connecting to the extra-future. Creating temporal and social coherences increases a person’s agency and higher values instead of empathy which focuses on the interpersonal, letting one relate to a broader world.

Awareness Intelligence is learnable

The study concludes that embracing a fuller social and temporal scope in one’s mind-wandering (especially to the extra-future) comes with more effective approaches towards worries, remaining adaptive, and a sense of meaningful satisfaction. Such socio-temporal awareness intelligence is theoretically learnable. Examples evidenced shifts in schema constellations over time, particularly in response to critical life events. Overall, the novel socio-temporal matrix presented in this study offered a useful tool to reflect on individuals’ meaning-making on a worldview level. Finally, indications for future research and, eventually, possible applications in interventions in therapeutic and educational settings are provided.

Keywords: worldview, socio-temporal, schemas, self-reflection, qualitative research

Introduction and Background


Imagine an ego-transcended future to create meaning of life

Looking at people’s stress and anguish, the conflict between societies and how the environment gets maltreated, it seems that the human ability of mentally embracing a global collective as a species did not keep pace with the globalization of the world. Is there a lack of a kind of mentality in the sense of, as Butler, Mercer, McClain-Meeder, Horne, and Dudley (2019) observe, how populations connect themselves to a broader context like all humanity? It appears challenging to bridge between individual and collective levels of reasoning (Grotzer, Derbiszewska, & Solis, 2017). However, the feeling of interconnectedness is essential in contributing to health and well-being (Kucinskas, Wright, Ray, & Ortberg, 2017).

Indeed, research findings suggest that psychological well-being is dependent upon one’s connection to a broader, even widely anonymous social scope that comes with a sense of meaning in life (Gabriel, Valenti, Naragon-Gainey, &Young, 2017). Carl Jung (as cited in Drew & Ho, 2017) spoke about different parts of the self that transcend the ‘ego’ self and that these need to be integrated to complete a harmonious inner self. The power of imagination can overcome an inflexible ego-centered mind (Doherty, 2017). Imagination is also required to imagine future events, which constitutes (besides recalling matters of the past) a part of the ability to mentally ‘travel in time’ (Shum et al., 2015). If people don’t imagine the future, their sense of self, and the perceived agency diminishes (Gerrans & Kennett, 2017).

Reflection on socio-temporal worldviews

Moreover, it is a person’s relation to the social world and time that can determine his or her meaning-making. In other words, it is a core construct of beliefs in these dimensions that forms a so-called ‘worldview’ (Magee, 2012). ‘Sensemaking on a worldview level’ and ‘mental schemas’ are appropriate related terms at the cognitive level (Taves, Asprem, & Ihm, 2018). Therefore, it seems to be worthwhile to investigate the appropriateness of such mental schemas to understand how people self-reflect on their socio-temporal worldviews.


Worldviews influence one’s well-being and common good alike

Globalization has caused people to travel and migrate, buy products across borders, and inform themselves through global media. This strongly influences people’s identity and their psychological construction of the world (Reese, Rosenmann, & McGarty, 2015). It’s also a person’s internal system of meaning-making, respectively worldview that determines the scope and quality of capacities like the empathy one experiences (Nelems, 2017). Worldviews also help to interpret the world meaningfully, which allows us to better handle suffering (Yang, Liu, Sullivan, & Pan, 2016). Consequently, any investigation on how worldviews influence meaning/understanding seeks to derive insights that are beneficial for the individual well-being and the common good alike.

The importane of the social and temporal dimensions in thinking systems

Worldviews are arrangements of beliefs used to create meaning of one’s experience of reality (Koltko-Rivera, 2004). From a cognitive perspective, worldviews involve ‘thinking systems’ including intricate patterns of thoughts and beliefs that integrate as an interactive whole (Davis, & Stroink, 2016). Beliefs are mental constellations that stand for relationships between categories, which determine how one experiences the world (Chen, Fok, Bond, & Matsumoto, 2006). For example, social worldview schemas would represent an individual’s beliefs about the social world (Sibley, & Duckitt, 2009). To mentally build a worldview, the abilities to learn and imagine, all of which require reflection, are essential (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010). And humans do reflect on the continuum of time, a mental process that involves thinking about the past, present, and future (Vannucci, Peagatti, Chiorri, & Brugger, 2019).

Socio-temporal meaning-making

The before-mentioned schematic concepts of beliefs can be called ‘meaning frameworks’ (Taves et al., 2018). Such a meaning framework is presented by Friedman (2018), who mentions two fundamental dimensions related to worldview, which are space and time. Neuroimaging research agrees that psychological orientation bases on the relationship between one’s behavior and the aspects of space, time, and people (Peer, Salomon, Goldberg, Blanke, & Arzy, 2015). Van Dijk and Withagen (2016) state that learning, specifically, meaning-making requires contextualization and a broadening of both the spatial and temporal scope of the individual.

Connecting to the human species

Regarding the above-mentioned social dimension (Peer et al., 2015), the intra-personalinter-personal, and extra-personal factors have been found to influence human perception, experience, and the capacity to manage life areas such as risks (Jayasuriya, Whittaker, Halim, & Matineau, 2012).

  • Intra-personal means the thoughts and beliefs related to the individual herself (Jayasuriya et al., 2012).
  • A definition of inter-personal comes from those thoughts and beliefs, which are related to personal interactions with others (Jayasuriya et al., 2012).
  • Extra-personal can be defined as a social scope that goes beyond the direct interaction with others (Jayasuriya et al., 2012). Extra-personal beliefs are related to long-term interests such as social needs that surpass intra- and inter-personal benefits (Sternberg, Reznitskaya, & Jarvin, 2007). They can comprise social relationships beyond group memberships, i.e., being a member of the whole human species (Leary, Tipsord, & Tate, 2008).

Independency from spatial context

Vannucci et al. (2019) mention that the temporal dimension of reflective thought is dependent on spatial context (i.e., including places close and far, the world, and the cosmos), but these researchers do not specifically focus the interpersonal, respectively social component of context. Similarly, Sullivan, Stewart, and Diefendorf (2015) see time and space as the critical variables for human cognition. Still, their model fails to consider the impact of the social dimension on perception too. To clarify the construction of worldviews, this present study, on the other hand, is specifying ‘spatial’ as the ‘social’ attributes of the intra-, inter-, and extra-personal.

The socio-temporal matrix of Awareness Intelligence

Nilsson (2014a) suggests that a person’s worldview, i.e., the schema through which the world is experienced, influences one’s well-being. Cloninger’s ‘unity of being’ represents a model of a coherent self-concept that consists of the self, others, and the world as a whole and has an impact on the degree of self-reliance, hope, the ability to cope, compassion, and cooperativeness (Garcia & Rosenberg, 2016). In that sense, the socio-temporal matrix (see Figure 1) proposed by this study as a framework to identify and visualize worldviews, can facilitate the exploration of similar possible psychological effects related to a person’s meaning-making and well-being through socio-temporal worldviews. Therefore, this study aims to understand individuals’ socio-temporal worldview ontology through introspective information gathering (Nilsson, 2014b).

Socio-temporal matrix_mathias sager

Figure 1. The socio-temporal matrix of worldview schemas

The novel socio-temporal matrix proposed by this study is derived as described in the following and as visualized by Figure 1. On the x-axis of the model, there are three variables of the temporal dimension. More specifically, this horizontal axis partitions itself, in the order from left to right, into the ‘past,’ ‘present,’ and ‘future.’ The vertical y-axis of the matrix contains the three variables of the social dimension.

Starting from the intersection with the horizontal axis, which represents time as explained, the first third of the vertical line (y-axis) shall be labeled ‘intra-’ that is short for ‘intra-personal. The next, middle part of the vertical axis becomes ‘inter-,‘which stands for the ‘inter-personal’ scope. The third and uppermost vertical section is the ‘extra-,‘ which signifies ‘extra-personal.’ Similar to a coordinate system, through these two tripartite grid lines, a matrix can be formed (see Figure 1). When using the vertical and horizontal axis’ labels in the same manner as the numerical coordinates of a map, or the letters and numbers of a chessboard, it is possible to identify and navigate the three times three – in total nine – fields of the matrix (see Figure 1). 

The 9 fields of the socio-temporal matrix

The nine fields of the matrix will be used to inquire about socio-temporal mental schemas. An individual’s worldview schema is expected to consist of a specific set of matrix fields, depending on whether one’s belief system emphasizes certain socio-temporal mental states over others. For example, one may emphasize other-related extra-past (e.g., socio-cultural upbringing), behave in an inter-present, rather relationship-dominated way, while focusing, however, on a self-oriented intra-future. Such a socio-temporal mental worldview schema might link to specific meanings as, for example, a more independent (i.e., denoted by the intra-past instead of an inter- or extra-past) and other-oriented (i.e., depicted as the extra-future rather than an inter- or intra-future) cognitive socio-temporal worldview preference.

To explore persons’ meaning-making through the use of socio-temporal worldview schemas, the objectives of this study are as follows.


  1. To describe and assess the utility and validity of the conceptualization of the socio-temporal matrix, which can be used to visualize the construction of worldviews.
  2. To understand how one constructs socio-temporal mental schemas and related meanings on a worldview level, e.g., which fields of the matrix are emphasized for what reason. 

Novel concept of the socio-temporal framework of worldview schemas

Socio-temporal schema constellations are expected to emerge from combinations of meaningful and often frequented social and temporal aspects within the socio-temporal matrix. The mental schemas related to the study participants’ worldviews will be investigated using the socio-temporal model and the interviewee’s reflection on related schema constellations. By doing so, the study describes the novel concept of the socio-temporal framework of worldview schemas. It initially validates it as a tool for, for example, educational purposes, by serving as a mental map to support the navigation of socio-temporal worldviews. As such, the matrix may prove to be useful for self-reflection and fostering awareness about oneself and others.

Conclusion and recommendations

Interviews for self-reflection

This study explored the socio-temporal mental schemas of fourteen expert interviewees between thirty-six and seventy-two years regarding their meaning-making on a worldview level. The interviewees’ responses showed that the socio-temporal matrix overall offers a useful tool for reflecting on a person’s self-concept as related to socio-temporal thought patterns.

Meaning is defined individually

This current research suggests that factors like beliefs, values, feelings of obligations, and responses to worries shape people’s socio-temporal worldview schemas. Socio-temporal mental schemas can change over time, mainly when shifts in identities (e.g., triggered by critical life events) occur. All the fields of the socio-temporal matrix proved to be able to carry meaning for individual worldviews. However, nobody in this study’s sample put equal weight on all of them, nor could any schema be observed that covered all the socio-temporalities simultaneously.

Temporal and social coherences

The study results propose that worldviews in this sample, first of all, depended on degrees of temporal coherence in a person’s socio-temporal mental schema, i.e., the integration of mind-wandering into the past, thinking in the present, and imagining the future. Secondly, social coherences through balancing intra- and extra-personal perspectives around inter-personal relationships and addressing positively extra-future related worries were found to be an essential factor, for example, especially for developing agency.

While empathy involves emotional responses from inter-personal interactions, extra-future matters appeared to be instead addressed with a cognitive stance with the advantage of reducing their potential negative affective load and optimistically keeping harnessing the power of imagination. By overriding more basic desires with higher values of pro-sociality, meaning in the form of satisfaction could ensue.

Wisdom through full socio-temporal scope of thinking

Sternberg et al. (2007) posit that wisdom is the consequence of applying intelligence for the benefit of the broader good that is attained through adaptation to pre-existing, interaction with current, and creation of new surroundings, all in the sense of equilibrating limited and expanded time. Applied to a socio-temporal worldview as presented in this study, these elements of wisdom would be temporal coherence through learning from the past, interacting with the present in a socially balanced way, and solving problems to creating a future for all. Further, they see the wisdom to emerge from balancing intra-, inter-, and extra-personal awareness and engagement (Sternberg et al., 2007).

In terms of the socio-temporal framework, this stresses the benefit of social coherences. In that sense, the ability to reflect on and mentally cover the whole socio-temporal scope of the world might well be called socio-temporal awareness intelligence. 

Updating and integrating one’s worldview

It would be interesting to compare whether and how more positively composed alternative interview questions (e.g., asking more directly for values instead of asking about worries and obligations) would impact the results. Although it seemed to be no problem for the participants of this study to talk about their professional and private life to be both integral to their worldviews, a separate investigation for each of one’s work and life self-concept could disclose more detailed information.

Also, if time had allowed, digging deeper into the effects of life changes on socio-temporal mental schemas would be expected to reveal additional insight into interdependencies between the different fields of the socio-temporal matrix. Besides, although the interviewees were asked about their most important and most frequently mind-wandered socio-temporalities, this distinction could have been further stressed and examined for understanding possible discrepancies and related meaning. And lastly, investing more time to gather additional data about affective states related to socio-temporal thought preferences and practices would have helped to gain further knowledge about motivations for and emotional consequences from specific socio-temporal mental schemas.