Graeme Newell

Projection bias

We know ourselves so well, you’d think we’d be better at predicting our future behavior. But research shows most of us are lousy predictors of our future actions. We have a tendency to think our future self will share the same beliefs, feelings and behaviors as our current self. This lures us to make short-sighted choices based mostly upon our current mood.

Ask someone to describe their preferences for entertainment, food and friendships from ten years ago, and they’ll probably describe a lot of things different from their current choices. But if you then ask them to describe their expected preferences 10 years in the future, most people report they don’t expect things to change that much.

Most of us just can’t seem to envision the emotional characteristics of our future selves. This is called the “empathy gap.” We make decisions that fulfill our present emotional state. Unfortunately, projection bias decisions can often involve harmful behavior, things such as overeating or trying bad stuff like cigarettes. We are confident our future selves will have the presence of mind to resist. Projection bias often leads to decisions we tend to regret.