Predicting our own and others' future preferences: The role of social distance

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2019 Mar;72(3):634-642. doi: 10.1177/1747021818763573. Epub 2018 Mar 20.


People underestimate how much their preferences will change in the future, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as a "presentism bias." Recently, we found that this presentism bias is attenuated when thinking about the preferences of other people. The aim of this study was to investigate whether predicting future preferences also differs depending on the level of social distance between self and other. A total of 67 participants completed a perspective-taking task in which they were required to think about their own preferences, those of a generic peer, and those of a close other both now and in the future. They were also asked to consider the preferences of an older adult now. Participants predicted less change between their current and future preferences than between the current and future preferences of a generic peer. Predicted change in preferences for a close other were similar, but not identical, to those made for the self. When considering relevant future preferences, participants predicted less change for themselves than for their close others and less change for close others than for generic peers. In other words, as social distance increases, the presentism bias decreases. Interestingly, participants estimated that both they and their peers would not change so much that they become similar to current older adults. Simulating the future perspectives of a generic peer or, even better, the current perspectives of an older adult may thus result in improved long-term decision-making, as it may enable a more realistic estimation of the magnitude of likely changes in the future.

Keywords: Future thinking; ageing; close other; presentism bias; projection bias; self.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychological Distance*
  • Theory of Mind / physiology*
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Young Adult