Whatever Is Willed Will Be: A Temporal Asymmetry in Attributions to Will

  • Helzer E
  • Gilovich T
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Abstract

Why do people neglect or underweight their past failures when thinking about their prospects of future success? One reason may be that people think of the past and future as guided by different causal forces. In seven studies, the authors demonstrate that people hold asymmetric beliefs about the impact of an individual's will on past versus future events. People consider the will to be a more potent determinant of future events than events that happened in the past. This asymmetry holds between- and within-subjects, and generalizes beyond undergraduate populations. The authors contend that this asymmetry contributes to the tendency for people to remain confident about their future performance in domains in which they have largely failed in the past. This research thus contributes to a growing body of literature exploring how thoughts about events in the past differ from thoughts about the same events set in the future.

Author-supplied keywords

  • attribution
  • future
  • optimism
  • overconfidence
  • past
  • willpower

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Authors

  • Erik G. Helzer

  • Thomas Gilovich

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