A Flexible Threshold Theory of Change Perception in Self, Others, and The World
94 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2023
Date Written: January 25, 2023
This article proposes a flexible threshold theory of change perception in self and social judgment. People’s thresholds for judging change depend not only on the salience and quality of the evidence for change but also on people’s beliefs about the extent to which acknowledging change would disrupt their immediate situation, and people typically prefer to avoid disruption. Accordingly, variables that exacerbate perceived disruption costs should lead people to contract their change thresholds (i.e., people should be slower and less open to concluding things have changed—and hence be less likely to take action) whereas variables that alleviate perceived disruption costs should lead people to expand their change thresholds (i.e., people should be quicker and more open to concluding things have changed—and hence be more likely to take action), even going beyond the salience and quality of the evidence. Moreover, these effects should emerge independently from change direction (i.e., for both declines and improvements alike) so long as signs of change bear on perceived disruption costs. I review empirical support for these propositions and use the theory to generate novel predictions, contributions, and applications. The theory offers novel explanations for diverse self and social phenomena, from how people respond (or fail to respond) to fluctuating climates and economies to how people respond (or fail to respond) to worsening personal conditions and burgeoning social progress. People flexibly adjust their thresholds for judging change from the past based on how they think it will affect their presents. This flexibility is adaptive at short time horizons but maladaptive at long time horizons.
Keywords: change perception, thresholds, self and social judgment, time, motivated cognition
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