Why are people so darn past biased?

In Christoph Hoerl, Teresa McCormack & Alison Sutton Fernandes (eds.), Temporal Asymmetries in Philosophy and Psychology. OUP (forthcoming)
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Many philosophers have assumed that our preferences regarding hedonic events exhibit a bias toward the future: we prefer positive experiences to be in our future and negative experiences to be in our past. Recent experimental work by Greene et al. (ms) confirmed this assumption. However, they noted a potential for some participants to respond in a deviant manner, and hence for their methodology to underestimate the percentage of people who are time neutral, and overestimate the percentage who are future biased. We aimed to replicate their study using an alternative methodology that ensures there are no such deviant responses, and hence more accurately tracks future bias and time neutrality. Instead of finding more time neutrality than Greene et al., however, we found vastly more past bias. Our explanation for this surprising finding helps to reveal the rationale behind both future and past biased preferences, and undermines the generalisability of one of the most influential motivations for the rationality of hedonic future bias: Parfit’s My Past or Future Operations.

Author Profiles

James Norton
University of Tasmania
Kristie Miller
University of Sydney
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