The End of History Illusion

The End of History Illusion
Photo by Markus Gempeler

In 2013, a team of psychologists at Harvard University published a paper in which they outlined “the end of history illusion.”

In the study, the team asked half of the thousands of study participants to predict how much their values would change in the next 10 years, and the other half to tell them how much their values had changed in the previous 10 years.

Here’s Dan Gilbert, one of the psychologists who participated in the study, and the author of the 2006 bestseller Stumbling on Happiness, explaining the results:

At every age, from 18 to 68 in our data set, people vastly underestimated how much change they would experience over the next 10 years. We call this the end of history illusion. To give you an idea of the magnitude of this effect [...] 18-year-olds anticipate changing only as much as 50-year-olds actually do.

Gilbert continues:

Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting, and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change.

In 2014, Gilbert summarized the findings of the study, and the end of history illusion more broadly, on stage at TED. You can watch his short talk below:

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Benjamin Spall

Benjamin Spall

Benjamin Spall is the co-author of My Morning Routine (Portfolio). He has written for outlets including the New York Times, New York Observer, Quartz, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, CNBC, and more.