Using socio-temporal mental maps to navigate people’s worldviews

This article is about the fascinating science of mental schemas and worldviews and how they relate to a person’s meaning and well-being. You can try out the related self-reflection tool, an exciting psycho-philosophical adventure, at

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.

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).

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.

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).

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, novel Socio-Temporal Mental Schema Analysis (STMSA) tool, on the other hand, is specifying ‘spatial’ as the ‘social’ attributes of the intra-, inter-, and extra-personal.

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) researched, validated and developed 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, it is to understand individuals’ socio-temporal worldview ontology through introspective information gathering (Nilsson, 2014b).

socio-temporal matrix

Figure 1. The socio-temporal matrix of worldview schemas

The novel socio-temporal matrix 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 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.

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 novel Socio-Temporal Mental Schemas Analysis (STMSA) tool investigates users’ worldviews based on their related schema constellations. The results can serve the users’ as a mental map to support the navigation of socio-temporal worldviews. As such, the matrix proves to be useful for self-reflection and fostering awareness about oneself and others.


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