|University of Oslo
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People s evaluations of self and others over time were examined by asking participants to rate themselves or an acquaintance on a number of attributes relative to same-aged others according to the past, present, and future. It was hypothesized that people can maintain positive self-regard not only by comparing themselves favourable with others, but also by constructing downward comparisons to past selves and upward comparisons to future selves. This prediction was supported by the finding that people reported being closer to average in the past compared to the present and expected continuous improvement relative to others into the future. It is suggested that people construct personal improvement to the extent that the past and present are perceived as ambiguous. Ambiguity was manipulated by varying temporal distance to the present self. People did not differentiate between a recent and a more distant past, but expected more improvement as the temporal distance extended into the future. Regarding evaluations of self versus acquaintances, it was hypothesized that people would report more improvement for self than for acquaintances. This prediction was only confirmed in prospective evaluations. Finally, people did not differentiate between controllable and uncontrollable traits in perceptions of change but reported improvement on both trait categories. Discussion centres on motivational versus cognitive explanations of perceptions of improvement.