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End Of History Illusion: Study Shows We Underestimate How Much We'll Change In The Future

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Even though we're usually not hesitant to say we've changed a lot over the years, we're less apt to admit that we'll change in the future -- something called the "end of history illusion," according to a new study in the journal Science.

"Middle-aged people -- like me -- often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin," study researcher Daniel T. Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist, told the New York Times."What we never seem to realize is that our future selves will look back and think the very same thing about us. At every age we think we're having the last laugh, and at every age we're wrong."

The study included 19,000 people between ages 18 and 68, who were surveyed about how much they thought they'd changed over the last decade, as well as how much they expected to change in the next. They were also asked questions about their personality traits and beliefs, NPR reported.

The researchers found that even though people reported changing in the past, they underestimated their changing in the future. They reported in the study:

Young people, middle-aged people, and older people all believed they had changed a lot in the past but would change relatively little in the future. People, it seems, regard the present as a watershed moment at which they have finally become the person they will be for the rest of their lives.

However, HealthDay pointed out some weak points in the study -- the participants were mostly women, and were chosen from people who'd previously participated in another survey. But the findings still shed some light on how we, as a whole, think -- and confirms that humans are not psychics.

"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," Gilbert told HealthDay. "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."

LiveScience reported two possible reasons that people think that they won't change all that much in the future:

One is that people find it comforting to believe that they know themselves and that the future is predictable. Thus, people are motivated to see the present as permanent.

The other is that it's simply harder to imagine the future than to remember the past. People may struggle to imagine how they might change and mistakenly conclude that since they can't figure it out, they won't change at all, Gilbert said.

What do you think about the findings? Do you anticipate yourself changing a lot in the coming years, or do you think you'll stay about the same? Tell us in the comments!

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