Staying Positive in a Dystopian Future: A Novel Dissociation Between Personal and Collective Cognition

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The future of groups of people is a topic of broad interest in society and academia. Nonetheless, relatively little is known about the manner in which people think about the collective future of groups, and whether personal and collective future thinking represent distinct domains of future-oriented cognition. In the present studies (N = 691), we used an adapted future fluency task to demonstrate a novel domain-by-valence interaction between personal and collective future thinking, such that U.S.-based participants were positively biased about their personal future while at the same time being negatively biased about the future of their country. We further present evidence that this valence-based dissociation extends into the distant future, emerges in a non-U.S. (Canadian) sample, depends on the individual’s relation to the group, and has consequences for how people think about the world around them. Taken together, our findings represent the first behavioral evidence of a dissociation between personal and collective future thinking, and suggest that the study of collective future thinking represents a fruitful endeavor for psychological science.

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