Study: Your beliefs are likely to change as you age

6:48 PM, Jan 4, 2013   |    comments
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The beliefs adults hold dear right now might not thrill their future selves.

A new study published in Science on Jan. 4 shows that while we may insist that we won't change our minds in the future, we're more likely to change than we think.

"It's hard to imagine ourselves in the future. That mistakenly causes us to think we won't change in the future," Daniel Gilbert, a professor in the department of psychology at Harvard University, said to HealthDay. "What our study shows is that people dramatically underestimate how different their future selves will be."

Researchers surveyed more than 7,500 adults between the ages of 18 to 68 who chose to answer online survey questions at the end of a French television program about the secrets of happiness. People were asked questions to determine their personality through subjects like conscientiousness and emotional stability, and then told the re-answer the questions as if they were 10 years older and younger. The "past" and "future" answers were then compared to people who were in corresponding age groups at the time of taking the survey.

The results showed that people predicted they would change less over 10 years compared to responses from those who looked back 10 years and realized how much they had changed.

For example, 68-year-olds said they had experienced modest personality changes over the past 10 years, while surveyed 58-year-olds predicted very little if any change in the coming decade, even though their own survey results showed they had changed their personality over the past 10 years, according to Science.

"When people look back on a particular decade, do they remember more change than they predict (for the next decade)? The answer is yes," Gilbert said to USA Today.

However, the results might not hold true for a larger population. The responders were not chosen at random, and only 20 percent were men. Further, how individual's specific opinions changed over time was not tracked.

"The research has so many questions that I don't consider it particularly useful in terms of the findings," Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, admitted to HealthDay.

Whitbourne was not involved in the study and said the arbitrary 10 year period and the fact that there were so many women in the study makes it troublesome. Shane Frederick, an associate professor of marketing at Yale University, added to USA Today that the results are plausible but don't actually prove that everyone changes more than they think they will.

Still, Gilbert insists that the study is important because it suggests how unable people are to predict what they will be like in a few years or what the future will hold.

"Middle-aged people -- like me -- often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin," he 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."

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