Monday, 31 March 2014
Will You Be the Same Person in 10 Years As You are Now?
Our thought processes are far from being as reliable and logical as we often think they are. In reality, our brains are constantly playing tricks on us, ranging from simple optical illusions to change blindness and other cognitive biases to the illusion that the self is a continuous entity that has the experiences that make up our lives.
Scientists are discovering more and more ways in which the brain fails to operate according to the simple common sense that we would expect. One notable example is the way that we perceive ourselves over time. In this regard, a study published in the January 2013 issue of the journal Science revealed a truly strange phenomenon that the authors call the “end of history illusion”—a reference to a concept originated by the German philosopher Hegel and advanced by American thinker Francis Fukuyama in a controversial 1992 book arguing that humanity had reached the end point in its sociocultural evolution.
In the study published in Science, the authors—psychologists Jordi Quoidbach, Daniel Gilbert, and Timothy Wilson—surveyed thousands of people ages 16 to 68 and found that most of them believed that their personalities had changed a lot in the past 10 years but probably would not change much in the next 10. That assumption may seem bizarre from a strictly logical standpoint, or even simply from an empirical one, but that was the finding that clearly emerged from this survey.
This double standard in assessing our own past and future personalities is not just an interesting curiosity. It comes into play in many decisions that people make, from getting a tatoo to getting married. The authors believe that part of the explanation may lie in a difference between the cognitive processes that we use to reconstruct the past and those that we use to project ourselves into the future. We may find the latter more mentally demanding and so tend to fall back on the easier assumption that things will continue as they are.
I found out about this study in a post by Jean-FranÃ§ois GariÃ©py, one of nine bloggers for the BrainFacts.org Blog, This blog, an initiative of the The Kavli Foundation, The Gatsby Charitable Foundation, and the Society for Neuroscience, contains posts on a huge variety of fascinating subjects. It is a great source of information that may change what you know and maybe even change your perception of what you will be like 10 years from now!