From Past to Future: Temporal Self-Continuity Across the Life Span

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Abstract

Although perceived continuity with one’s future self has attracted increasing research interest, age differences in this phenomenon remain poorly understood. The present study is the first to simultaneously examine past and future self-continuity across multiple temporal distances using both explicit and implicit measures and controlling for a range of theoretically implicated covariates in an adult life span sample (N = 91, aged 18–92, M = 50.15, SD = 19.20, 56% female). Perceived similarity to one’s self across 6 past and 6 future time points (1 month to 10 years) was assessed with an explicit self-report measure and an implicit me/not me trait rating task. In multilevel analyses, age was significantly associated with greater implicit and explicit self-continuity, especially for more distant intervals. Further, reaction times (RTs) in the implicit task remained stable with temporal distance for older adults but decreased with temporal distance for younger adults, especially for future ratings. This points toward age differences in the underlying mechanisms of self-continuity. Multilevel models examined the role of various covariates including personality, cognition, future horizons, and subjective health and found that none of them could fully account for the observed age effects. Taken together, our findings suggest that chronological age is associated with greater self-continuity although specific mechanisms and correlates may vary by age.

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