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Thinking about your future may make you less trusting and more critical of others

By Linda Coutant

BOONE, N.C.—Appalachian State University’s Dr. Andrew Monroe is a psychologist in the College of Arts and Sciences who studies people’s moral and social judgments.

View larger imageDr. Andrew Monroe with his research assistants in Appalachian State University’s Department of Psychology. Photo by Marie Freeman

In the most recent issue of Social Cognition: The Official Journal of the International Social Cognition Network, he was principal author of a study that found that although people often have optimistic beliefs about their futures, thinking about one’s future may cause people to behave pessimistically.

He and researchers from University of North Florida, University of Minnesota, and Florida State University conducted three experiments, which taken together suggest that even though people forecast a bright future, full of success for themselves, actively thinking about one’s future makes people more risk-averse, less trusting and harsher moral critics.

“This is an interesting finding, because it shows that by reflecting on what you want the future to be, it seems to make you worried about messing it up,” explained Monroe, who has taught at Appalachian since 2015.

“In some cases, this may be an adaptive tendency – after all, it makes sense to punish people who misbehave; that’s a powerful way to make sure they behave in the future. On the other hand, if thinking about the future causes us to miss out on potentially lucrative investments because they feel risky, then perhaps there is something important about allowing yourself to be more in the moment.”

Here are details about the experiments:

  • In the first, 187 participants wrote about their future self in comparison to one’s present self. The majority (74 percent) wrote about positive experiences such as getting married or achieving professional success, but this did not translate to optimistic behavior as they favored low-risk, low pay-off investments rather than high-risk, high pay-off ones.
  • In the second experiment, 69 participants restated sentences about their futures and then participated in trust games with another person. The findings showed that those who thought about the future trusted other people significantly less than participants who thought about the present.
  • In the third experiment, 173 participants were asked to make judgments of praise and blame for various moral and immoral behaviors after reading statements about a person. The results showed increased blame for misdeeds – but no effect on praise for virtuous action.

Prior to joining Appalachian, Monroe was a post-doctoral fellow at Brown University and Florida State University. In his Morality and Social Cognition Lab in Appalachian’s Department of Psychology, he and his students explore the topics of free will and social norms/social pressures in shaping perceptions of mental states and morality.

In another set of experiments, recently submitted for publication, Monroe has tested how prioritizing certain moral values affects people’s perceptions of LGBTQ individuals. He and colleagues are finding that when people prioritize the moral value of sanctity over the moral value of care, it affects the dehumanization and discrimination toward LGBTQ individuals. “Individuals perceived as violating personally held moral values become part of the moral out-group, leading to dehumanization. Dehumanization, in turn, legitimatizes prejudice and discrimination towards moral out-group members,” the authors wrote.

This latest research may be able to shed light on why the American population can have such varying worldviews and how those views affect behavior. As psychologists, “we don’t make value judgements about values – we simply try to describe the phenomenon,” said Monroe.

About the Department of Psychology

Appalachian State University’s Department of Psychology promotes understanding of the science of psychology. It is housed in the College of Arts and Sciences. The department seeks to prepare undergraduate students with transferable skills and knowledge of the discipline of psychology and train graduate students as professionals in the scientist/practitioner model as well as for more advanced study. Learn more at

About the College of Arts and Sciences

The College of Arts and Sciences is home to 16 academic departments, three stand-alone programs, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities, social sciences, and the mathematical and natural sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university’s strengths, traditions and unique location. Our values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of our students as global citizens. There are approximately 5,850 student majors in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing Appalachian’s general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges.

About Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.


Contact Dr. Andrew Monroe
828-262-2272, ext. 431
Morality and Social Cognition Lab