What was your New Year’s resolution? I want to be healthier, you say. No, I want to read more! Actually, I want to improve my work ethic. That’s one type of New Year’s resolution, but other popular resolutions are vaguer and point to a change in core values. I want to be happier in 2013, people say. I want to be more assertive. Or I want to “enjoy life more”. Now that January is coming to a close, you might be in the process of reassessing your resolutions or trying to forget them. But before you hop onto the resolution bandwagon, you might want to hear what science says about how you perceive your personality changing in 2013, and over the next few years.
A study published in early January looked into how people perceived themselves as they were 10 years earlier and as they would be 10 years later. The experiment was simple. The research team put out an online survey and investigated the results of over 7,000 respondents. The survey asked respondents to rate themselves in terms of enthusiasm, extroversion, emotional stability, and so on. They then had some of the participants fill out the same survey as themselves, but imagining they were 10 years younger. This group was called the “reporters”. The other participants filled out the survey as themselves, only 10 years older. This group was called the “predictors”.
Unsurprisingly, the reporters’ surveys showed how much they thought they’d changed over the last 10 years. What was surprising, though, was the predictors’ surveys. The predictors filled out their surveys as their current selves pretty similarly to how they filled out the surveys for their older selves; that is, they anticipated that they wouldn’t change much. That means that many 50-year-olds predicted that their 60-year-old selves would be fairly the same. They thought they would eat the same foods, listen to the same music, and practise the same hobbies. The same could be said for how 20-year-olds perceived their 30-year-old selves. The survey also took into account personality traits, and as with tastes, participants of all ages thought their personalities wouldn’t change much 10 years into the future.
For university students, that might seem a little strange. Some of us may dream of the day we’ll have a better work ethic, work harder in our fields of choice, or just get better at expressing ourselves. But maybe we secretly don’t want any of that, or don’t believe we need it. When the researchers of the experiment contemplated the possible reasons for why people predicted their personalities wouldn’t change, they said it was possible people didn’t want to change. Why? The psychologists’ theory is that we tend to think of our current selves as the best possible version. One possible reason for this vanity is that we’ve seen ourselves evolve so much over time already that it’s hard to consider any more change—even though, as 18-, 19-, or 20-year-olds, we know it’s only logical that we will change.
An alternative theory for why people didn’t predict they would change much over time makes us sound a little less egotistic: it’s just difficult to imagine the kind of changes we’ll experience in the future. In the absence of any ideas, people fill out surveys as if they won’t experience any dramatic change at all.
Regardless, change is coming—whether or not we expect it. With that in mind, what’s your resolution for 2023?