When we remember our past selves, they seem quite different. We know how much our personalities and tastes have changed over the years. But when we look ahead, somehow we expect ourselves to stay the same, a team of psychologists said Thursday, describing research they conducted of people’s self-perceptions.
They called this phenomenon the “end of history illusion,” in which people tend to “underestimate how much they will change in the future.”
Why? Dr. Gilbert and his collaborators … had a few theories, starting with the well-documented tendency of people to overestimate their own wonderfulness.
“Believing that we just reached the peak of our personal evolution makes us feel good,” Dr. Quoidbach said. “The ‘I wish that I knew then what I know now’ experience might give us a sense of satisfaction and meaning, whereas realizing how transient our preferences and values are might lead us to doubt every decision and generate anxiety.”
Or maybe the explanation has more to do with mental energy: predicting the future requires more work than simply recalling the past. “People may confuse the difficulty of imagining personal change with the unlikelihood of change itself,” the authors wrote in Science.
For more, join best-selling author Dan Gilbert (PopTech 2007) as he explores our capricious reaction to different threats—from tooth decay to anthrax to climate change on the PopTech stage.
“Did you know that in 15 years depression alone will be the number one cause of disability globally, above heart disease, cancer and HIV?”
Giuseppe “Bepi” Raviola is a psychiatrist with Partners In Health, Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, working to integrate mental health services into global health care efforts.
“There isn’t one thing that predicts resilience. It’s not two things. It is not necessarily in us.”
Watch now: George Bonanno, a professor of clinical psychology, mines massive data sets for surprising revelations about how human beings cope with loss, trauma and other forms of extreme adversity.
How do we decide whether to trust somebody?
An unusual new study of college students’ interactions with a robot has shed light on why we intuitively trust some people and distrust others. While many people assume that behaviors like avoiding eye contact and fidgeting are signals that a person is being dishonest, scientists have found that no single gesture or expression consistently predicts trustworthiness.
But researchers from Northeastern University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell recently identified four distinct behaviors that, together, appear to warn our brains that a person can’t be trusted.
The findings, to be published this month in the journal Psychological Science, may help explain why we are sometimes quick to like or dislike a person we have just met. More important, the research could one day be used to develop computer programs that can rapidly assess behavior in airports or elsewhere to flag security risks.
Image: Stuart Bradford
Watch now: Consumer psychologist Simonetta Carbonaro implores us to think differently about consumption. A consumer-hungry outlook for cheaper and faster has gotten old. We now know that consuming and producing less, in fact, creates more jobs, more free time, and more happiness.
“One thing that we learned is that if you give someone the tool to block, that’s actually not in many cases the right solution because that ends the conversation and doesn’t necessarily resolve anything—you just sort of turn a blind eye to it,” says Jacob Brill, a product manager on Facebook’s Site Integrity and Support Engineering team, which tries to fix problems users are experiencing on the site, from account fraud to offensive content.
“I really think that was key—that the best way to resolve conflict on Facebook is not to have Facebook step in, but to give people tools to actually problem-solve themselves,” says Piff. “It’s like going to a relationship counselor to resolve relationship conflict: Relationship counselors are there to give couples tools to resolve conflict with each other.”Instead, Brill’s team concluded that a better option would be to facilitate conversations between a person reporting content and the user who uploaded the content, a system that they call “social reporting.”
By Dan Ariely (PopTech 2009)
Over the past decade or so, my colleagues and I have taken a close look at why people cheat, using a variety of experiments and looking at a panoply of unique data sets—from insurance claims to employment histories to the treatment records of doctors and dentists. What we have found, in a nutshell: Everybody has the capacity to be dishonest, and almost everybody cheats—just by a little. Except for a few outliers at the top and bottom, the behavior of almost everyone is driven by two opposing motivations. On the one hand, we want to benefit from cheating and get as much money and glory as possible; on the other hand, we want to view ourselves as honest, honorable people. Sadly, it is this kind of small-scale mass cheating, not the high-profile cases, that is most corrosive to society.
Much of what we have learned about the causes of dishonesty comes from a simple little experiment that we call the “matrix task,” which we have been using in many variations. It has shown rather conclusively that cheating does not correspond to the traditional, rational model of human behavior—that is, the idea that people simply weigh the benefits (say, money) against the costs (the possibility of getting caught and punished) and act accordingly.
Recently, PopTech announced a new initiative called Editions, which explores an emerging theme at the edge of change from the perspective of some of the remarkable innovators shaping it. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting individual pieces from our first Edition, Person-to-person: Social contagion for social good. Today, we’re excerpting a contribution from political scientist and PopTech presenter James Fowler.
1. Good deeds are contagious
We naturally imitate the people around us, we adopt their ideas about appropriate behavior, and we feel what they feel. Acts of charity are no exception. In our 2010 generosity experiment, we showed that every extra dollar of giving in a game designed to measure altruism caused people who saw that giving to donate an extra twenty cents.
2. The network acts like a matching grant
That same experiment showed that contagious generosity spreads up to three steps through the network (from person to person to person to person), and when we added up all the extra donations that resulted at every step, we found that an extra dollar in giving yielded three extra dollars by everyone else in the network.
3. Messages get amplified when they spread naturally
People are bombarded by information and appeals every day, especially in our newly mobile and tech-centered society, so the effect of any one appeal to do a good deed may get lost. But don’t underestimate the effect of a broadcasting strategy. Our research on get-out-the-vote appeals suggests that the indirect effect of a message on a person’s friends is about three times larger than the direct effect on the person who received the message in the first place. The more you can get people to deliver the message naturally, the greater this multiplier effect will be.
4. Close friends matter more
When we studied behaviors like obesity, smoking, and drinking, we found that spouses, siblings, and friends had an effect on each other’s behavior, but next door neighbors did not. So any attempt to change people’s behavior should probably focus on motivating these “strong ties” rather than broadcasting to a wide range of weak connections.
5. Our real world friends are online, too
Although most relationships online are not strong (the average person on Facebook has 150 “friends”), we do tend to be connected to our closest friends online too. Therefore, it is possible to use online social networks to reach our real world friends to spread social good. If someone is suggesting friends to a person who could help spread the world, it is important to try to figure out which of his/her relationships are also likely face-to-face. We have done this using photo tags and frequency of communication online, both of which work relatively well.
Read all ten of Fowler’s points on spreading the word.