Our evolving personalities (and politics)

posted at 12:31 pm on January 27, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

One of the common maxims I’ve been hearing all my life is that people tend to be liberal when they are younger, but grow more conservative as they get older, have to work, pay taxes and prepare for retirement. I’ve said it myself more times than I can count, and I’ve found it to be largely true, at least through personal observation. But I also see claims going in the opposite direction.

It applies to more than politics, though. Movies, books, music… possibly even food. Do our tastes really change all that much as we age? And more to the point, do we ever really “stabilize” at some point in middle age or do we keep on evolving for our entire lives? There’s a pretty good article this weekend in the LA Times about studies done on this subject by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert.

According to his own research, Gilbert is hardly alone in having imagined that he’d always like the same music, or hobbies or friends…

Calling it the “end of history illusion,” he and his colleagues suggested that the phenomenon may help explain why people make decisions they later regret: marrying the wrong person or buying an expensive vacation home.

“We recognize it in teenagers,” Gilbert said. “We say to them, ‘You’re not going to like that Megadeth tattoo in 10 years.’ But no matter how old you are, you’re making the same mistake.”

It’s easy to point to kids in their teens or early twenties and sagely nod our heads, thinking, “you’ll get it when you’re older.” But do we ever get to the point where “the cake is baked,” as Gilbert put it? He tried to test it scientifically.

Recruiting viewers of a popular French documentary hosted by study coauthor Jordi Quoidbach, a postdoctoral researcher in Gilbert’s lab, the scientists assigned some to answer questions designed to arrive at core aspects of their identity and to predict how those responses might differ 10 years in the future. Among other things, subjects were asked to list their favorite foods or hobbies, rank values such as success and security, or answer a standard questionnaire designed to home in on personality traits like conscientiousness and emotional stability.

Other volunteers were asked to consider the same traits, but report how they had changed in the past decade.

Pairing up future-focused predictors and backward-looking reporters — such that the predictions of 25-year-olds were compared to the recollections of 35-year-olds, for instance — the researchers found that people consistently acknowledged they had changed a lot in the past but underestimated how much they would change in the future. The results held true for each decade of life between ages 18 and 68.

I’m trying to understand if it’s even possible for people to keep changing over the entire span of their lives, and if that applies to all aspects of our preferences and personalities, or only some things. And is the change only in one direction, at least in areas where a “direction” can be inferred? Going back to politics for a moment, even if you were shifting over time from a liberal perspective to a more conservative one – or vice versa – there’s only so far you can go, right? Or do some people zig and zag from liberal to conservative back to liberal again?

On other things, Gilbert found similar results. In the field of music, he notes that he once thought he’d be listening to Miles Davis until he died, but today he doesn’t listen to much music. As for me, I still listen to pretty much the same stuff I did during my formative years – and for the most part, the same bands and songs. I never really shifted. It doesn’t feel like my tastes in food have changed much either, though I’ve added some new options to the menu.

Am I just blocking things out… whitewashing my past to make it seem as if I’m more consistent? How have those of you who’ve seen more than a few winters come and go observed yourself changing? Or not changing, I suppose. (And no, we don’t need to hear from you whippersnappers in your teens and early twenties on this one. We already know that you know everything and are smarter than everyone else. I know I was at your age. Pfffffft)


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When we are young we absorb the world views of our parents. As we age, we begin to develop a world view that is our own. In our twenties we have little experience with the world and we have to rely upon idealism, imagination and principle: we lack any great depth or breadth of experience with which to set our own valuations, and to make accurate predictions for our decisions.

As we get older we build from our myriad experiences and successes and failures the structure of our world view, right or wrong. And after a certain point all our experiences are little more than tapestries on the walls of the houses we’ve built of our lives. We may add on an addition here and there. But we rarely tear the whole house down and start over. We may be wrong, but we are not without our reasons. This is why we can become so cock-sure, blunt and even cantankerous in our old age. We really have been there and done that.

Wisdom doesn’t come overnight.

flicker on January 27, 2013 at 5:45 PM

Bmore on January 27, 2013 at 4:42 PM

Thanks for the tip, Bmore. I’ll have to look them up — your experience sounded great. I’d love to be able to see more music live; I’d even go by myself, as that is one thing my hubby and I don’t share in common, but it would take some real schedule-rearranging at present.

PatriotGal2257 on January 27, 2013 at 5:50 PM

Still though, I’m surprised that that a Harvard professor would have to take the time to understand this. Perhaps I have more to learn from his example.

The streets are strewn with jigsaw puzzle pieces. We know the pictures our parents gave us. But now we pick up the pieces of our experiences and try to fit them into a picture. Sometimes they fit and sometimes they don’t. And often the picture that takes form is not what we expected or even like. By the time we are old, the picture is set, and the pieces that fit are fewer and farther between. We may even have to force a few.

But how many of us ever throw out our picture and start over?

flicker on January 27, 2013 at 6:02 PM

But how many of us ever throw out our picture and start over?

flicker on January 27, 2013 at 6:02 PM

30% :)

Anti-Control on January 27, 2013 at 6:08 PM

Liberals, however, do not learn from their mistakes.

They slowly incorporate into the culture and then legislate them when they gain a slim majority.

Wisdom is resisted by ideology.

profitsbeard on January 27, 2013 at 6:15 PM

Anti-Control on January 27, 2013 at 6:08 PM

Mid-life crises?

flicker on January 27, 2013 at 6:31 PM

Anti-Control on January 27, 2013 at 6:08 PM

But seriously though, I don’t think I’ve ever met a grown man (or woman) who has seriously questioned everything he’s always believed, and has thrown it all out, and started over.

I’ve known a lot of people who never learned much and have been more or less stagnant for most of their lives. But I’ve never to my recollection known a guy who slapped his head and said, “Wow, I’ve been so wrong all these years! I’ve got to rethink everything I’ve ever thought I knew.”

Can anyone out there think of someone and relate the story?

flicker on January 27, 2013 at 6:41 PM

My temperament has remained the same.

My personality hasn’t changed very much.

Once you see that bleeding hearts lead to bleeding bodies, you really do realize that no matter how good Leftist blather sounds, it always ends in blood. It can take time to get there, but that is the destination. See that play out a number of times in history and you wise up pretty quickly unless you love to delude yourself about the ultimate ends of imposing power over your fellow man.

If anything I’ve become more set in who I am, but then temperament tends to guide personality, not the other way around. You gots real problems if your personality is guiding your temperament and may believe that humans are perfectable via the use of power. Real big problems if you go that direction.

ajacksonian on January 27, 2013 at 7:30 PM

I think there are a few of us Cohenphiles on Hot Air. Great minds and all that…. ;)

can_con on January 27, 2013 at 1:12 PM

Add me to that list.

onlineanalyst on January 27, 2013 at 7:32 PM

Add me to that list.

onlineanalyst on January 27, 2013 at 7:32 PM

Added!

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

can_con on January 27, 2013 at 7:42 PM

And one of the great sources of new music I’ve not heard before is right here on HotAir, so those of you who post YouTube music clips — keep it up! :)

PatriotGal2257 on January 27, 2013 at 3:01 PM

Ever heard of Pandora? Pandora.com,

Cleombrotus on January 27, 2013 at 7:48 PM

Cleombrotus on January 27, 2013 at 4:37 PM

; ) personal growth and Conservatism are not adversaries in the least. Quite the contrary. Broadening ones width of understanding of all these things is a very Conservative position. If not a core belief imperative to its very existence. I find that many times Liberalism is confused with progressivism and leftism. My feeling is that Liberalism is more at home within Conservative thinking. The hybrid of which may in fact be considered the Libertarian view. For me there are many aspects to Conservatism which make it more or less compelling for people to embrace. Social Conservatism for example has a dual guide in the course it takes. Scripture. The hardest role Conservative thought has at the same time, its greatest liability, one must come to it of their own accord. Proselytizing for it does not seem to work. Where as with leftism/progressivism, its easy. Lazy like water as I say. At any rate, found it funny the Heads were in your head. Lol! Hope this brief thought makes sense. At least a little. I am warn out. ; )

Bmore on January 27, 2013 at 7:50 PM

In my 20′s I was an uber-supporter of…Pat Buchanan. I was also once a ‘religious right’ conservative.
Now, I consider myself to be a ‘conservatarian’. It works.

annoyinglittletwerp on January 27, 2013 at 7:52 PM

Of course then again it may make no sense what so ever. ; )

Bmore on January 27, 2013 at 7:55 PM

Its still evolving. Lol!

Bmore on January 27, 2013 at 7:57 PM

I’m in Southern California if you still want to hold me too, btw ;P

SD Tom on January 27, 2013 at 2:24 PM

LOL! That’s a bit of a hike.

Cindy Munford on January 27, 2013 at 8:02 PM

Can Atheists make good Conservatives?

Bmore on January 27, 2013 at 8:04 PM

As for me, I still listen to pretty much the same stuff I did during my formative years – and for the most part, the same bands and songs. I never really shifted.

Based on the stuff typically posted in the QOTD thread it seems many people have been listening to nothing but the same 70s and 80s pop music all their lives.

DarkCurrent on January 27, 2013 at 8:08 PM

Can Atheists make good Conservatives?

Bmore on January 27, 2013 at 8:04 PM

Resist is an athiest. :) And, one fate-filled night, as she stood panting over the bodies of a pack of trolls like Summer Glau with a bloody axe, I proposed. lol — and, Bmore, I meant it.

Axe on January 27, 2013 at 8:14 PM

. . . that’s it. I’ve lost the ability to spell.

*She’d say she’s a libertarian, but she makes a good conservative anyway.

Axe on January 27, 2013 at 8:17 PM

Axe on January 27, 2013 at 8:14 PM

She’d be a fine catch. : )

Bmore on January 27, 2013 at 8:35 PM

She’d be a fine catch. : )

Bmore on January 27, 2013 at 8:35 PM

I think I’ve actually married my work, to be honest. But RWM is welcome anywhere I am, that’s a fact. That girl need not fear starvation whilst I have a pulse.

Can Atheists make good Conservatives?

Still loving the question. Mulling. Questions about the foundations of natural law, etc. :)

Axe on January 27, 2013 at 8:44 PM

Axe on January 27, 2013 at 8:44 PM

Axe, you do know QOTD is up, right?

Bmore on January 27, 2013 at 8:48 PM

Can Atheists make good Conservatives?

Bmore on January 27, 2013 at 8:04 PM

.
Absolutely. We’ve got a number here in our ranks, at HotAir.

But conservative atheists will have a horrible time, after they’re “left behind.”
They will find themselves in an EXTREME minority, and the rest of the world will oppose them.

listens2glenn on January 27, 2013 at 8:48 PM

They will find themselves in an EXTREME minority, and the rest of the world will oppose them.

listens2glenn on January 27, 2013 at 8:48 PM

In that case, let’s get to planting.

Axe on January 27, 2013 at 9:09 PM

But I’ve never to my recollection known a guy who slapped his head and said, “Wow, I’ve been so wrong all these years! I’ve got to rethink everything I’ve ever thought I knew.”

Can anyone out there think of someone and relate the story?

flicker on January 27, 2013 at 6:41 PM

Wouldn’t David Mamet’s Why I am no longer a brain dead liberal be a “slapped his head” moment? David Horowitz did an about face in his late 30s – early 40s.

Quisp on January 27, 2013 at 9:16 PM

Sheesh! There is much stupid at ivy league levels.

ss396 on January 27, 2013 at 4:44 PM

You can send an idiot to an ivy league school but that doesn’t cure him of being an idiot, it just trains him into an ivy league idiot, 10 times as dangerous.

Carthoris on January 27, 2013 at 9:36 PM

I don’t understand how people listen to to the same music all their lives. There’s so much interesting music in the world and with the Internet there’s no reason not to expand the playlist. But some people are happy listening to the same thing over and over. I wonder if they eat the same food day in and day out too.

I think some people vote in such a way as to rebel against their parents whatever way that may be. If they ever grow up maybe they take a look at what’s going on and vote based on what they see.

Dan_Yul on January 27, 2013 at 10:08 PM

Quisp on January 27, 2013 at 9:16 PM

Thanks for the link, Quisp. That’s pretty much what I was talking about. Any other examples? Have you ever met anyone that made a complete 180? I’ve seen people mellow and become more patient and tolerant. But I’ve never met a grown man who just woke up one year changed his out look.

Oh, wait. Dennis Miller. But still they seem so rare. I’ve never actually met one.

flicker on January 27, 2013 at 10:20 PM

Interesting piece, Jazz. Thanks for posting it.

I have actually had the experience of “throwing everything out” and starting over … multiple times. I actually think I’m a bit crazy. Indoctrinated in college, I was a diehard liberal until age 35 … I hated McDonalds, Wal-Mart, all the big corporations. Then I had an epiphany during the 2004 GOP convention … I realized everything the liberal media had told me about George W. Bush and Republicans was a lie … and I wanted to know for myself.

It was like discovering the Matrix.

I’ve also had several religious transformations … but those seem to be continually changing … going from faith to doubt … back to faith.

As to what the future holds … Please God, do NOT let me go back to being a liberal … but I do hope that I will regain some of my earlier idealism and optimism.

These last four years have been tough …

Nicole Coulter on January 28, 2013 at 1:22 AM

Can Atheists make good Conservatives?
Bmore on January 27, 2013 at 8:04 PM

Sure, they just can’t defend it on any substantive grounds. It’s just their opinion against someone else’s opinion.

Cleombrotus on January 28, 2013 at 1:37 AM

Oh, wait. Dennis Miller. But still they seem so rare. I’ve never actually met one.
flicker on January 27, 2013 at 10:20 PM

C. S. Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge, Alexander Sholzenytzen (sp?), come to mind.

Cleombrotus on January 28, 2013 at 1:41 AM

Ronald Reagan started out as a Democrat … just sayin’ …

Nicole Coulter on January 28, 2013 at 1:51 AM

Mid-life crises?

flicker on January 27, 2013 at 6:31 PM

haha no.

I was raised in an upper middle class, suburban, Protestant family. If I ever had a “crisis,” it was when I was 19 and brought a girl home from college, of whom my family vehemently disapproved. Their reaction made me realize just how much I didn’t fit in with them – overall, I’m laid back and very open-minded, but the rest of the family’s members were (and still are) repressed/shackled in fear to varying degrees, and resistant to change.

But seriously though, I don’t think I’ve ever met a grown man (or woman) who has seriously questioned everything he’s always believed, and has thrown it all out, and started over.

I’ve known a lot of people who never learned much and have been more or less stagnant for most of their lives. But I’ve never to my recollection known a guy who slapped his head and said, “Wow, I’ve been so wrong all these years! I’ve got to rethink everything I’ve ever thought I knew.”

Can anyone out there think of someone and relate the story?

flicker on January 27, 2013 at 6:41 PM

When I said “30%” before, I meant it’s my observation that only 30% of people out there are willing to question everything they’ve been taught, not that they’ve actually gone and done it, often because the need to do so has never arisen for them.

Anti-Control on January 28, 2013 at 7:26 AM

I’m in my early 30′s, I was a freshman in college during Bush/Gore in 2000. I was more liberal-leaning them, but I look back now and I attribute some of that to my ultra-liberal high school teachers (Republicans were consistently characterized as the bad guys, Democrats the good guys), and some of that to my laser-like focus on social issues, and buying into the idea that, as a Jew, the right-wing “Party of Christianity” was out to create a theocracy in this country and only the Democrats were going to fight it. I didn’t research much, and I was on the Gore bandwagon in 2000. I remember all the craziness of election night being passed back and forth on white-boards on people’s dorm doors.

I think the Iraq War was among the first things to really kind of change my thinking (since I didn’t yet have a job, so taxes & the economy weren’t on my mind aside from the fact that the job market wasn’t that great, but I didn’t really know enough to figure out who to “blame”). The war started Spring of my senior year of college. When it started coming out a few years later that WMD’s were never found, etc, and the quickness that people were willing to just backtrack and potentially do more damage than ever before, it became clear to me that the attitude of Democrats was very short-sighted and potentially dangerous. Being Jewish and a proponent of Israel, I started to look into the politics of that situation, and before I knew it, I was voting Bush in 2004 for pretty much foreign policy reasons (I was still pretty uneducated in fiscal, but it didn’t seem as important at the time)

The defining change for me came around the primary season for 2008. I’d been working for about 4-5 years now, with flat paychecks. I was now married, buying my first house. Doing everything responsibly and living within my means. I started paying attention more to politics. When I’d express my opinions which were turning more conservative (and partly libertarian-leaning in terms of the constitution), my bleeding-heart-liberal sister would say “Oh, that’s just what the right-wing-radio-talk-show-hosts want you to think”, as if I was too stupid to come to my own conclusions. The disagreements became person, and I was often attacked as a bad, uncaring person for having non-liberal thoughts. Ironically, she got me curious about talk-radio and I started listening to a bit of Sean Hannity & Mark Levin on the way home from work. Mark Levin, who originally seemed WAY too angry for me to listen to on a daily basis, became less angry-sounding to me once I guess I became MORE angry about things.

The ironic part of the whole thing is that when Obama first came on the scene, I was thinking “Hey, this is a personable guy, maybe he’ll be a democrat that I can be OK with”. Boy was I wrong. Of course, little did I know that having an open mind, and forming my opinion based on his words & actions would turn me into a racist.

So I’m still libertarian-leaning on social issues (Yes, you can say I’m not a “true conservative”, I really don’t care anymore), but I definitely had a conservative evolution. I’ve always been a responsible person, I’ve never been terribly impulsive or done anything stupid in my youth. So I’d attribute most of my “evolution” to paying attention & educating myself on the issues, something I think will be harder and harder for future generations facing such a biased media & education system. It’s shocking how many young people AND adults are blissfully unaware of the damage that liberals and Democrats have systematically caused to the very people they claim to help.

Violina23 on January 28, 2013 at 9:41 AM

It’s shocking how many young people AND adults are blissfully unaware of the damage that liberals and Democrats have systematically caused to the very people they claim to help.

Violina23 on January 28, 2013 at 9:41 AM

Yep and Brian Williams appreciates the ratings. ; ) I once asked my Mother in Law what they had been saying on the nightly news about F&F. I own no tv and honestly didn’t know what the coverage had been. Her reply. “What is Fast & Furious?” *crickets chirping*

Bmore on January 28, 2013 at 10:35 AM

Thought of the thread.

“I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Bmore on January 28, 2013 at 10:39 AM

Cleombrotus on January 27, 2013 at 7:48 PM

Oh, yeah, I know about Pandora; tried it a few times, but I’m not all that keen on it for the same reason I stopped listening to Live365 stations on iTunes — hate being pestered to subscribe to their service every five minutes.

Instead, I’ve found some interesting stations just by Googling, one of which is Rocket 88, which as far as I can tell is one person with a bunch of iPods filled with tons of rare, eclectic music, mostly blues, but sometimes obscure 60s psychedelia and the like. Every so often, it goes offline, presumably to replenish its stores. Best of all, there are no commercials. Zip, zero, nada, and the music is only very briefly interrupted by a quick station break, which tells you that it’s “the best station out there.”

PatriotGal2257 on January 28, 2013 at 10:49 AM

Sure, they just can’t defend it on any substantive grounds. It’s just their opinion against someone else’s opinion.

Cleombrotus on January 28, 2013 at 1:37 AM

That’s funny but true since there is nothing in any way substantive about any of the alleged gods invented by man. There is no reason we even need to defend not believing in something there is zero evidence for. Do I also need to defend not believing in the tooth fairy?

Dan_Yul on January 28, 2013 at 11:28 AM

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