Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The end of history illusion

People often make decisions their future selves regret. This may be getting a tattoo or piercing, but also habits like smoking, taking other drugs or eating unhealthy food. Not to forget: They often make financial decisions that leave them with more money now, but less in the future. Why is this so?

Jordi Quoidbach from the National Fund for Scientific Research in Brussels, Belgium, and his colleagues Daniel T. Gilbert and Timothy D. Wilson assume that one reason for such behaviours is people’s fundamental misconception of their future selves. In their study, the researchers assessed the personalities, values, and preferences of more than 19,000 people between ages of 18 and 68 and asked them to report how much they had changed in the past ten years and how much they would change in the coming ten years. It turned out that study participants of all ages thought they had changed quite a lot during the past ten years, but would change only little during the next ten years.

The original article was published in the journal Science. There is a detailed outline of the study on The Scientist.

The authors conclude that in fact, people seem to think that who they are today is pretty much who they will be in the future, even though when they look at their past, they are aware of the fact that they have changed a fair bit. They call this phenomenon the “end of history illusion”.

There is no concrete advice we can give you on the basis of these results. The only thing we can say is: when making a decision that might affect your future self (and most decisions do!), keep in mind that you are likely not to be the person you are now in the future.

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