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  • Date Submitted: 09/21/2011 09:42 AM
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When Change in the Self Is Mistaken for Change in the World
Richard P. Eibach, Lisa K. Libby, and Thomas D. Gilovich
Cornell University
The authors examined whether and when changes in the self lead to mistaken assessments that the world has changed. Survey data revealed that: personal changes in respondents (e.g., parenthood, financial change) were positively correlated with their assessments of various social changes (e.g., crime rates, freedom). Experimental data provided converging evidence. Experimentally induced change in knowledge influenced participants’ perceptions of change in an author’s writing style from one decade to the next (Study 3). Bringing self-change to participants’ attention attenuated their judgments of change in the world when they had sufficient cognitive resources to consider how such self-changes might affect their perceptions (Studies 4 – 6). Discussion highlights how such misattributions of change contribute to the pervasive belief in societal decline.

In Walker Percy’s (1987) novel, The Thanatos Syndrome, the protagonist, Dr. Tom More, has been away from his hometown for 2 years. When he returns, he discovers that many of his former friends and acquaintances seem to have changed, as if their personalities had been altered. Dr. More wonders whether the apparent change is real, or whether his friends merely seem different because he himself has changed since he had been away. Noting one acquaintance whose personality seemed to have changed, Dr. More states, “I left Mickey’s room and started down the hall, musing over the changes in Mickey. How much of the change, I was wondering, comes from my two years away and the change in me?” (Percy, 1987, p. 10). Dr. More’s question shows an awareness of perception’s dialectical nature. Because perception is constructive, what is perceived is influenced by properties of the perceiver as well as the perceptual objects themselves. As Neisser (1967) put it:...


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