Measuring Temporal Self-Continuity Over The Life Span

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When people perceive their past, present, and future self as one, rather than as separate entities, they are said to have self-continuity. This concept has been linked to a reduced tendency to devalue future rewards relative to present ones (also known as temporal discounting). The three papers in this volume seek to better understand self-continuity, its relation to temporal discounting, and how it might change over the life span. Because time perception has been defined in multiple ways by multiple researchers, Chapter 1 assessed distinctiveness among five widely-used time perception measures administered to a community life span sample. Four principal components emerged, suggesting distinction among all but two of the measures, with self-continuity forming a separate factor that was positively associated with age. Previously, self-continuity had only been studied in binary present-future comparisons. It remained unknown whether people perceive the transition from their present self to future self as gradual. In an undergraduate student sample, Chapter 2 examined these questions using both explicit (self-report) and implicit measures of self-continuity (me/not me trait-rating task). For comparison, temporal discounting was assessed as well. Both the explicit and implicit selfcontinuity tasks yielded similar functions, resembling the gradual trajectory seen in temporal discounting. Additionally, links between individual response times from the implicit selfcontinuity task and individual discounting functions raise the possibility that self-continuity, like temporal discounting, may be driven by a dual systems process. Because self-continuity has received little attention in aging research, Chapter 3 examined age differences in self-continuity trajectories for both past and future. Older adults reported greater explicit and implicit self-continuity as compared to younger adults, especially for increasingly distant time points. These findings raise important questions as to whether age differences in self-continuity translate into age differences in decision scenarios such as temporal discounting, and whether adults may select (and benefit from) differing decision strategies depending on their position in the life span. Chapter 4 provides a synthesis and proposes directions for future research on self-continuity, its relation to temporal discounting, and possible mechanisms underlying age differences.

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self-continuity; temporal discounting; aging


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Loeckenhoff,Corinna E

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Ong,Anthony D.
Spreng,Robert Nathan

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Developmental Psychology

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Ph. D., Developmental Psychology

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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