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End of History Illusion?

Really?
I'm never quite sure what to think of Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson. When I am in agreement with what they conclude, it makes me question my belief; when I disagree with them, it's hard for me to respect their conclusions which seem to me to be far in advance of their data.

They've got a new one out:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/science/study-in-science-shows-end-of-history-illusion.html

Or, for those avoiding the NYT:

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/33837/title/Metamorphosis-Complete/

Lead author is Jordi Quoidbach (which is just about the best name ever, spoken as someone with a genealogy hobby).

"The amount of future change that the volunteers predicted was always smaller than the amount of past change they reported. For example, 19-year-olds felt they would change less in their next decade than 29-year-olds thought they had done in their previous one. And while the illusion was stronger in younger people, every age group from teenagers to grandparents seemed to think they would stay as the people they had become."

I'm never sure how to characterize how much I've changed. I tend not to think I've changed at all in the last decade (or so), but then I have to admit I've moved across country a few times, gotten married a second time, had two children, learned to enjoy living in the suburbs, and taken to regularly eating kale (I used to only eat it occasionally). Then there's a bunch of stuff like owning an automatic transmission again, and buying a 4 bedroom house.

On the other hand, I still have pb&j for breakfast virtually every day, and many of my other foods are the same old favorites (granting the kale, of course). True, I've cut way back on ahi and similar fish because of concerns about mercury -- but that's not a change in taste it's a change in information. I carry an iPhone instead of a Treo smart phone -- but that's a change in what is available. I have a _very_ different hobby (genealogy instead of hiking), but it's a hobby with very deep roots in my past as well, and the hiking will come back when my child commitments change further.

I could go on. Are there bands I like now that didn't used to exist. Absolutely! And I've observed before that my reading tastes have changed enormously just in the 5 years I've had a kindle (used to hate reading electronic books under e-ink came along with the Amazon ecosystem). But when the authors observe things like this:

"This illusion can affect our financial decisions. By quizzing 170 more volunteers online, the team found that people would pay $129 to see their favorite band perform in 10 years time, but would pay just $80 to see their favorite band from 10 years ago perform next week."

I think that's a bunch of foolishness. Nominal dollars or inflation adjusted, perhaps, is an unfair question, but there's a curve of desirability that's being measured -- not necessarily a[n] [dis]ability to predict the future per se.

This bugs me even more:

"Instead, the team thinks that people underestimate the future, either because they believe that our current status quo is optimal or because they feel they know themselves well. “People are motivated to think well of themselves and to feel secure in that understanding, and the end of history illusion may help them accomplish these goals,” Quoidbach wrote."

I think that's just bullshit. I think what's really going on is that people are alive now and they were alive 10 years ago. Those are things they know. They have not devoted any time to thinking about being alive 10 years older -- that is not something within their experience. If you walked them through even a half hour visualization exercise of what the next ten years would bring, I bet those results would change a ton.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Jan. 6th, 2013 12:24 am (UTC)
End of History Illusion - Why?
I think the results are credible and pretty paradoxical too. You might think that since strategic planning for the future can have enormous fitness consequences for humans we might have a more robust conscious vision of our future selves this study indicates.

I'd like to offer an explanation of why we have the documented end of history illusion that is really on an evolutionary level of analysis, as opposed to a classical psychological (hypothetical constructs) or proximate level. Humans depend for their fitness on reasonably stable social exchange contracts. Multi-partner contractual reciprocity is the basis for everything as a person moves thru life. To garner the needed social exchange relationships, social partners have to see us as reasonably predictable. They have to feel they can effectively and efficiently “mentalize” us, that is, formulate a “theory of mind” that will predict our future behavior as we surf the vicissitudes of life together. One good way to help others feel they can easily predict us is to actually believe, and so more convincingly be able to represent, that we are not going to change much going forward. So, this illusion, like many other mental mechanisms that cause us to create highly subjective views of self and reality, is probably an evolutionary adaptation to help us favorably manage the models that social partners build of us, to encourage them to see us as predictable and reliable long-term social exchange partners. It helps us establish fitness-enhancing contracts.

Maybe most of our (undoubtedly dynamic) visions for what we will become in the future, and our strategies for getting there, are held subconsciously, so as to minimally “upset” our social networks.

– Paul J. Watson, Dept. of Biology, University of New Mexico.
walkitout
Jan. 6th, 2013 01:30 am (UTC)
Re: End of History Illusion - Why?
I've unscreened this because it isn't the obvious kind of spam. However, I sort of feel like someone is trying to yank my chain here.

"One good way to help others feel they can easily predict us is to actually believe, and so more convincingly be able to represent, that we are not going to change much going forward."

That and the rest of what you have to say sounds like layers of delusions and "how to lie convincingly".

Also, all healthy social networks demand change over time. Social networks which insist we behave the same way 10 years on as now are totally fucked up. Healthy social networks move with us through the stages of life: reaching physical maturity, full independent participation in adult society, establishing a kinship network of our own, nurturing others, planning for our increasing care needs as we age, etc.

What we _want_ from each other, whether in network or not, is to have confidence that we will fulfill future commitments. And if the study had been measuring that kind of continuity, they'd have come up with a different set of conclusions (because people with a solid history of paying down debt and paying bills on time tend to continue along those lines, with the usual tragic exceptions).

I'm sticking to my belief that people aren't great about deciding how much they'll spend on a concert in the future because they have not rallied relevant evidence. An exercise in extending the past change trend line into the future would change the results of the study in question.

walkitout
Jan. 6th, 2013 01:31 am (UTC)
Re: End of History Illusion - Why?
Oh and this:

"You might think that since strategic planning for the future can have enormous fitness consequences for humans we might have a more robust conscious vision of our future selves this study indicates."

Most people's idea of strategic planning Doesn't Go Well.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 6th, 2013 07:58 pm (UTC)
Re: End of History Illusion - Why?
Nella,

Thank you for discussing this with me.

Nella, you observe: "An exercise in extending the past change trend line into the future would change the results of the study in question."

I think you are probably correct about this. And I think this would be an interesting experimental move going forward with this research. How resistant are our minds to stimuli that threaten to deactivate this normally adaptive illusion (self-deception)? The manipulation you propose kind of makes it socially acceptable, in the experimental context, to reveal expected future changes. Under my interpretation of the original results, one should expect that to reduce the specific self-deception about future change that I propose helps one manage other's perception of your predictability and social value (yes, "lie," if you will, but in a measured and unconsciously strategic manner.)

I also agree that the strongest, most effective social networks should have cultural mechanisms that encourage growth, change, and productivity in its individual members. But humans instinctively, IMO, want such programs of self-improvement to be coordinated and contained, again somewhat predictable, not programs entailing everyone going willy-nilly in their own directions. Groups need to be cohesive to withstand competition with other groups. Moreover, without predictability of social partners that you have contracts of various kinds with, it is difficult for individuals to formulate their own plans for advancement (lifetime fitness enhancement).

On the other hand, the end of history illusion probably evolved in ancient periods of human evolution in which socioeconomic mobility was considerably less than in today’s western societies. It may then have been more important to convincingly signal that you intend to stick with your socioeconomic specialties, your place in the group’s hierarchy, and your politics. (A lot of this can be signaled symbolically by, for example, underestimating how your aesthetic tastes might change.)

I'm not trying to yank your chain. I just like thinking and writing about this stuff.

PS: there is a typo - my fault - in the passage you quote above. It should read, "... than this study indicates."

– Paul J. Watson, Dept. of Biology, University of New Mexico.

http://biology.unm.edu/biology/pwatson/public_html/pjw_cv.htm
walkitout
Jan. 6th, 2013 09:48 pm (UTC)
Re: End of History Illusion - Why?
Weirdly, whereas your previous comment was screened, this time LJ decided you might be spam. I had already found your website; thank you for being clear about how you are. It's refreshing.

I don't worry about typos unless they introduce ambiguity in an important way.

I'm not Nella. That isn't my name. If you take a good look at where you found that and click through, it should become obvious Real Quick what my name actually is. It should _also_ be obvious from any looking around in this blog that I refer to people by initials, unless they are strangers in a public post I am referring to in the way they are referred to in the source.

I in no way proposed "revealing" future changes. I suggested pointing people at relevant evidence when asking them to make a prediction (viz. here is where you say you were 10 years ago. here is where you say you are now. where might you be 10 years from now, when you are x years of age in y calendar year?). I'm going to ignore the rest of the paragraph. I disagree with it.

I suspect you did not understand what I meant about social groups demanding change. Social groups expect 20 year olds, 30 year olds, 40 year olds, 50 year olds and so forth to behave in different ways. Having expectations about life trajectories for the group contributes to group cohesion. I have no idea what you mean by self-contained, but I'm pretty sure I'll disagree.

"Moreover, without predictability of social partners that you have contracts of various kinds with, it is difficult for individuals to formulate their own plans for advancement (lifetime fitness enhancement)."

This is wrong in a damaging and aggressive way. I assert that humans neither need nor want "predictability" of social partners. We need some certainty that people will fulfill on future commitments AND we need to be able to trust each other. I don't need to know a damn thing about what band my husband will want to spend money on ten years from now to figure out how many kids we would prefer to have. I _do_ need to know that we have a pattern of compatibility, so that if our plans to not materialize, I trust we can find a way to go forward. This study was looking at _music preferences_. NOBODY needs predictability there. (Except really rabid Rush fans.)

However much you may like thinking about this stuff, it'd be a whole lot less annoying to read if you didn't reify your opinions.

"the end of history illusion probably evolved in ancient periods of human evolution in which socioeconomic mobility was considerably less than in today’s western societies" just sounds like windbaggery. Also, since I started this by saying I thought the illusion was a bullshit explanation to begin with, speculating about why it might exist seems like going a bit far.
walkitout
Jan. 7th, 2013 01:23 am (UTC)
Re: End of History Illusion - Why?
The final comment from the other party to this exchange was deleted because despite specifically being told that Nella was not my name AND being told that I refer to people by initials in this blog, he used my first name.

I can't tell if he's a troll or if he's really just that obtuse -- with academics, that level of obtuseness has to be allowed as a possibility. The not-name portion of the comment was:

"Anyway, thank you for the give and take. I'll leave my comments as they stand and see if our exchange attracts others. Thank you for beginning discussion of this interesting and, of course, complex controversial paper and topic. It seems like a thoughtful forum, so I thought I'd give it a try. Best wishes -- PJW"

I've really done a lot with this blog to make it clear that it is NOT a general purpose forum -- it is the personal (not private but personal) blog of a middle-aged married woman who identifies as on the autism spectrum. I opinionate here, so that I'm not tempted to opinionate elsewhere, where I might violate rules I don't understand. If you are tempted to contribute to this thread, keep in mind that you're here on sufferance not by invitation (unless you're my friend, either LJ or IRL), and I am not committing to being polite.

Edited at 2013-01-07 01:24 am (UTC)
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