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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2013 Feb;104(2):249-66. doi: 10.1037/a0030477. Epub 2012 Oct 15.

The post-birthday world: consequences of temporal landmarks for temporal self-appraisal and motivation.

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Department of Psychology, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany.


Much as physical landmarks help structure our representation of space, temporal landmarks such as birthdays and significant calendar dates structure our perception of time, such that people may organize or categorize their lives into "chunks" separated by these markers. Categories on the temporal landscape may vary depending on what landmarks are salient at a given time. We suggest these landmarks have implications for identity and motivation. The present research examined consequences of salient temporal landmarks for perceptions of the self across time and motivation to pursue successful future selves. Studies 1 and 2 show that temporally extended selves are perceived as less connected to, and more dissimilar from, the current self when an intervening landmark event has been made salient. Study 3 addresses the proposed mechanism, demonstrating that intervening landmarks lead people to categorize pre- and postlandmark selves into separate categories more often than when the same time period contains no salient landmarks. Finally, we examined whether landmark-induced mental contrasting of present state and future desired state could increase goal-pursuit motivation (in an effort to bridge the gap between inferior present and better future states). Studies 4-6 demonstrate that landmark-induced discrepancies between current health and hoped-for future health increased participants' motivation to exercise and increased the likelihood that they acted in line with their future-oriented goals.

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