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People Underestimate How Much They Might Change in the Future
Date:1/3/2013

hose who are actually 10 years older think they changed over the past decade.

This suggests, but doesn't prove, that people underestimate how much they'll change over the next decade. It's possible that people looking back didn't have a good handle on the past or tried to put a positive spin on how they'd evolved.

Why does this matter? Because it shows people's inability to predict the future, Gilbert said. "All of our decisions are made with a future self in mind, whether we're shopping for what we'll eat next week or a partner we want to marry," he said. "Most people believe they have the right values. It's comforting to believe that change has basically stopped. Isn't that what you want to do when you're on a trip? You feel good when you're getting to where you're heading."

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, questioned the study's value and validity. "The research has so many questions that I don't consider it particularly useful in terms of the findings," she said.

For one, she said, a huge percentage of the participants were women, and it's not clear how well they represent the general population. When asked about this, study author Gilbert said it's impossible for any study to accurately represent the population at large.

Whitbourne added that "the selection of a 10-year interval to use as the basis for prediction bias seems arbitrary. Why not five, eight or 15? Ten years is just a round number, but it has no intrinsic meaning in the way that people think about their lives."

The study is published in Jan. 4 issue of the journal Science.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more on emotional health.

SOURCES: Daniel Gilbert, Ph.D., professor, department of psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.; Susan Kra
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