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Why We Feel Older on Our Birthday

david_myers
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Category labels matter. On the color spectrum, blue transitions gradually into green. But at some point we place a dividing line between the blue wavelengths (to the left) and the greens (to the right). Once we do so, equally different wavelengths are harder to distinguish when they share the same label, such as blue, than when on opposite sides of the blue-green naming line.

316673_Do labels matter..JPG 

Similarly, two locations seem closer and more at risk for the same natural disaster if labeled as in the same state, rather than being equally distant across state lines. As Nathan DeWall and I write in Psychology, 12th Edition, “Tornadoes don’t know about state lines, but people do.”

 

This curious effect of labels on our thinking came to mind when reading about a new study showing that young children think that birthday parties cause aging. We adults don’t have this magical thinking. Moreover, we rationally know that on our birthdays we are only one day older than the day before . . . exactly as the previous day we were but one day older than the day before that.

 

Yet category labels matter. So, do our birthdays make us feel just a tad older?

 

Mine does. You too?

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About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see www.hearingloop.org).