16 Aug False Personal Narratives (TRIVERS)
We continually create false personal narratives. By enhancing ourselves and derogating others, we automatically create biased histories. We were more moral, more attractive, more “beneffective” to others than in fact we were. Recent evidence suggests that forty- to sixty-year-olds naturally push memories of negative moral actions roughly ten years deeper into their past than memories of positive ones. Likewise, there is a similar but not so pronounced bias regarding nonmoral actions that are positive or negative. An older self acted badly; a recent self acted better. I am conscious of this in my own life. When saying something personal, whether negative or positive, I displace it farther in the past, as if I am not revealing anything personal about my current self, but this is especially prominent for negative information—it was a former self acting that way.
When people are asked to supply autobiographical accounts of being angered (victim) or angering someone else (perpetrator), a series of sharp differences emerges. The perpetrator usually describes angering someone else as meaningful and comprehensible, while victims tend to depict such an event as arbitrary, unnecessary, or incomprehensible. Victims often provide a long-term narrative, especially one emphasizing continuing harm and grievance, while perpetrators describe an arbitrary, isolated event with no lasting implications. One effect of this asymmetry between victim and perpetrator is that when the victim suppresses anger at a provocation, only to respond after an accumulation of slights, the perpetrator sees only the final, precipitating event and easily views the victim’s angry response as an unwarranted overreaction.
There is also something called false internal narratives. An individual’s perception of his or her own ongoing motivation may be biased to conceal from others the true motivation. Consciously, a series of reasons may unfold to accompany actions so that when they are challenged, a convinced alternative explanation is at once available, complete with an internal scenario—“but I wasn’t thinking that at all; I was thinking . . . ”
The folly of fools : the logic of deceit and self-deception in human life