People experience themselves across time—recalling who they were and imagining who they will become. This consciousness of the self over time (Tulving, 1985; Wheeler, Stuss, & Tulving, 1997) and the ability to mentally “time travel” is a general human capacity (Epstude & Peetz, 2012) that develops by about age five (Atance, 2008; Atance & Jackson, 2009; Atance & Meltzoff, 2005; Russell, Alexis, & Clayton, 2010). For this reason, the future self can play a role in current choices from an early age. Indeed, when asked, people report imagining their future selves; they can describe both positive and negative possible identities their future selves might have (Dalley & Buunk, 2011; Norman & Aron, 2003). People say they care about whether they are making progress toward attaining their positive and avoiding their negative future identities (Vignoles, Manzi, Regalia, Jemmolo, & Scabini, 2008). They even report that their future selves are truer versions of themselves than their present selves, which are limited by the demands of everyday life (Wakslak, Nussbaum, Liberman, & Trope, 2008). Given all that, it might seem unnecessary to test whether people’s current actions are influenced by their future identities. Surely it has to be the case that future identities matter. Yet uncovering the circumstances in which the future self and other aspects of identity matter for behavior has turned out to be difficult. It is not always apparent that identities matter in spite of people’s feelings that they must. Figuring out the underlying process is critical to reducing the gap between aspirations and attainments and is the focus of this book. Does the future self really make such a difference in behavior? In the next sections, I provide a perspective and research evidence to answer the question. While often used interchangeably, the terms self, self-esteem, and identity are based on different concepts (Oyserman, Elmore, & Smith, 2012). Self-esteem is the positive or negative regard one has for oneself. Identities are descriptors (e.g., homeowner, middle-aged), personal traits (e.g., shy, outgoing), and social roles (e.g., mother, daughter) and the content that goes with these traits, descriptors, and roles (e.g., proud, worried).
Keywords: Everyday theories, Google Scholar search engine, Identity-based motivation (IBM), Impulsivity, Life tasks, Parents, Racial-ethnic identities, Social identities, Temporal construal theory, U.S. Census
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