The (subjective) times of our lives: Constructing personal identity from a malleable past and future

Thursday, Nov 12, 2020

1:30pm - 3:00pm

Lecture by:
Anne Wilson

Our personal identity matters for our well-being, relationships, and decisions; it is a lens through which we interpret and come to understand the world. How do we build our sense of identity? Present identity doesn’t occur in a temporal vacuum – we survey our temporal landscape in both directions and build a sense of present self from both autobiographical memory and predictions for the future. However, everything about this process – our reconstructions of the past, construction of the future, and subjective sense of time itself – is elastic. Our representations of temporally extended selves involve a great deal of poetic licence. My research explores how our representations of the times of our lives can shape identity, but in turn, how our identity –and how we want to see ourselves – can systematically affect the way we revise the past and imagine the future.

The self over time can be thought of as a series of interconnected individuals with differing degrees of overlap with the present. Part of how we create identity is by regulating the connections between these selves, by altering our perception of the passage of time (which itself is highly malleable). Feeling close to or distant from a past or future self can help to psychologically forge or sever connections between these moments in time and define their psychological relevance to the present. Further, our underlying assumptions about whether it is possible for people to change their basic characteristics (like personality and morality) also affect the ways we remember our past and envision the future.

I will focus mainly on how these identity processes play out for our individual sense of self. However, we also have relational and collective identities as relationship partners, and as group members. I will briefly describe how the same identity processes can help us understand how we think about our relationships, our national history, and our collective future.

About The Lecturer

Anne Wilson

Anne Wilson is the Director of IMPETuS Lab and a Professor of Social Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University. Dr. Wilson completed her PhD in Social Psychology from the University of Waterloo. She is a member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists (Royal Society of Canada) and a Fellow with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), Successful Societies Program. Dr. Wilson is co-Editor-in-Chief of Social Personality Psychology Compass. She has worked with government, policy makers, industry partners, and educators to connect research evidence to real-world outcomes. Dr. Wilson has mentored more than 70 undergraduate thesis students, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. Her research and publications focus on self and identity over time, interpersonal and intergroup relations, and societal issues like inequality and prejudice.