The phenomenon of the “end-of-history” illusion 1

With age we personally grow and develop a mature and stable personality. In this context many might think of the simple example of tattoos. Better not get one when you are sixteen, because you will most likely regret it later. So better wait until you are a proper grown-up with a stable identity. While it is true that the rate by which our values and preferences change slows down with age, reaching an endpoint in personal development is a human illusion.


“The one constant in our life is change.”, psychologist Daniel Gilbert.


Our cognitive bias

In psychology this misperception is called “end-of-history illusion”. Adults tend to believe that at any given point in their lives they have reached their destiny. Not in terms of reaching their goals, but that the things they like, hate or their definition of happiness won’t change drastically anymore.  However, data shows that people at any age underestimate how much their preferences and basic personalities continuously change. Through life, the three main personal values pleasure, success and honesty continue to shift. Similarly, our likes and dislikes are under constant change. Daniel Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard University, argues that at the presence an individual has a TRANSIENT personality. Probably, we resist the thought of further change due to an intrinsically wish for safety and stability. Interestingly, it seems to be our human nature to see change in retrospect but we have a hard time to imagine it in the future.

But why should this be important? Well, Gilbert argues that our flawed perception could prevent us from being happy. Our poor forecasts can affect our happiness by doing everything in the presence to satisfy our future selves. But as Gilbert describes in his book “Stumbling on Happiness” :

“Our temporal progeny are often thankless. We toil and sweat to give them just what we think they will like, and they quit their jobs, grow their hair, move to or from San Francisco, and wonder how we could ever have been stupid enough to think they’d like that. We fail to achieve the accolades and rewards that we consider crucial to their well-being, and they end up thanking God that things didn’t work out according to our shortsighted, misguided plan. Even that person who takes a bite of the Twinkie we purchased a few minutes earlier may make a sour face and accuse us of having bought the wrong snack.”

Header mage credits to Shutterstock

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About Lisa Landskron

Being a scientist in the field of molecular biology & leading the TEDxVienna Blogger team, Lisa loves to do biochemical as well as digital experiments to create and spread ideas.

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