When change in the self is mistaken for change in the world

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003 May;84(5):917-31. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.84.5.917.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Crime / psychology
  • Ego*
  • Female
  • Freedom
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parents / psychology
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Change*
  • Social Class
  • Social Perception*
  • Students / psychology