According to a new study, many people underestimate how much they will change in the future.
The scientists published their findings in the journal Science¹. Many of the choices that people make rest on assumptions. The psychologists devised a series of online experiments, in which more than 19,000 people participated. Adults between 18 and 68 filled out a questionnaire, scoring themselves on basic personality traits. The researchers asked them to do it again, answering as if they would have done 10 years ago or as they would do 10 years from now. The surveys of the participants of all ages indicated that they felt that they had changed more in the past decade than they would change in the upcoming one.
The scientists were surprised that even the older participants underestimated how much they would change. Several follow-up experiments suggested that the differences reflect errors in predicting future events rather than errors in remembering the past. The researchers think that people believe that the present marks a point at which they’ve stopped changing.
In more surveys, researchers found that people underestimate changes in their personal values and preferences. The final experiment shows at how this bias might affect financial decisions. They asked some participants how much they’d pay in 2012 to see their favorite band in a concert in 2022. They asked others how much they’d pay to see their favorite band from 2002 play a concert “next week” in 2012. People were willing to pay 61% more for the future concert with their current favorite band than people 10 years older were willing to pay to see their favorite band from 2002 play in 2012. Participants were willing to substantially overpay for a future opportunity to indulge a current preference.
People believe that they have changed more than they will change, and this belief is a mistake, states Leaf Van Boven, a social psychologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The most fascinating part is that people don’t have this belief about other people, he continues. There’s something odd about this projection of the self into the future that’s psychologically unique. Other psychologists think that people might just have a reluctance to predict the unknowable.
- Quoidbach, J., et al., Science 4 January 2013: Vol. 339 no. 6115 pp. 96-98 doi: 10.1126/science.1229294