As I was crooning along to “Take a Walk” at a Passion Pit show last week, I started to wonder if I would still love lead singer Michael Angelakos’ high-pitched falsetto next year, or the year after that. During my sophomore year, I had gone to see Two Door Cinema Club at the House of Blues, but now, I chronically skip over their songs when they come up on iTunes shuffle. Taking class upon class of upper-division psychology has taught me to second-guess my every move, making me the concert buzzkill while even the old guy next to me is fist pumping away.
I wasn’t wrong to doubt myself — as it turns out, people tend to possess an unfounded faith in the stability of their current personalities and tastes over time. A study led by social psychologists at Harvard University and the University of Virginia earlier this year reveals that this is a systematic and fundamental perceptual mistake committed by those of all ages. They appropriately dubbed this the “end of history illusion,” wherein people readily admit how much they have matured over the past 10 years, but underestimate the extent to which they will change over the next decade. “At every age, we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age, we’re wrong,” Daniel T. Gilbert, one of the paper’s authors, said.
This illusion lends itself to a number of practical consequences, such as shunting aside future concerns in order to indulge in present preferences. One of my best friends currently sports 11 tattoos and counting (possibly more, I’ve lost track over the years), and he swears he will still proudly wear them all when he’s 50. Somehow, I doubt that. Even Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine admitted that the Russian tattoo he used to think was edgy now vaguely resembles “a cauliflower with a sun in the middle of it.”
When making decisions that have lasting repercussions, it’s prudent to examine the preferences, traits and values of those who are older and in the same social network as we are. This is especially applicable when figuring out which graduate school or post-graduate job to commit to, or in deciding whether moving to the Big Apple really will be the be-all, end-all. In an interview with The Boston Globe, Gilbert pointed to his 2009 study, in which he found that people made better choices when they were informed by a similar person’s experiences than when they were aware of the details of the event itself. This means, in clearer terms, that you should use other people as your guinea pigs to avoid being the screw-up of the family. And if your sister from another mister is currently unemployed and an active member of the couch-surfing community, you might want to think twice before you jet off to Africa on a wild whim to save the elephants like she did.
So, before you decide to get gauges or agree to be wifed up to the first half-decent guy you date, remember that psychology says that you’re unlikely to find either holes in your earlobes or that sorry sucker attractive years down the line.