[Link] Your Elusive Future Self

by RichardKennaway1 min read8th Jan 201337 comments


Personal Blog

A current article in Science reports on this study about how good people are at predicting what their future selves will be like. Not very good, apparently. Daniel Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard, with other colleagues conducted several experiments online, in which 19,000 people were asked about such things as personality traits, preferences in music, etc., answering about the present, about themselves 10 years earlier, and about what they expected 10 years hence. More precisely, this not being a longitudinal study, people of any age X predicted less difference with their X+10 selves than people of age X+10 recollected of themselves at age X. The effect did not go away with increasing age: 58-year-olds still expected less change in the next 10 years than 68-year-olds reported in the last ten.

Gilbert and colleagues call this effect "the end of history illusion," because it suggests that people believe, consciously or not, that the present marks the point at which they've finally stopped changing.

"What these data suggest, and what scads of other data from our lab and others suggest, is that people really aren't very good at knowing who they're going to be and hence what they're going to want a decade from now," Gilbert says.

Someone suggests an alternative explanation:

Another possibility is that people "might well anticipate substantial change, yet not know how they would change, and thus, just predict the status quo"

An actionable moral:

"The single best way to make predictions about what you're going to want in the future isn't to imagine yourself in the future, … it's to look at other people who are in the very future you're imagining," [Gilbert] says.