If at first you don't succeed. False hopes of self-change

Am Psychol. 2002 Sep;57(9):677-89.


Despite repeated failure at attempts to change aspects of their behavior, people make frequent attempts at self-change. The generally negative outcome of many such self-change efforts makes it difficult to understand why so many individuals persist at these attempts. The authors have described this cycle of failure and renewed effort as a "false hope syndrome" characterized by unrealistic expectations about the likely speed, amount, ease, and consequences of self-change attempts. In this article, the authors further develop their conceptualization of this syndrome and review its evidential basis. They review the reasons why so many people tend to fail in their self-change attempts and then examine how people interpret these failures in such a way that they are led to keep trying repeatedly despite apparently overwhelming odds. Finally, the authors discuss the psychological consequences of repeated failure and analyze the distinction between confidence and overconfidence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude*
  • Humans
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Behavior