Why do the good ol' days seem better than they actually are? Is this a result of an error in human thought or is it because things are actually worsening?


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  • $\begingroup$ What makes you suggest that the "good old days" were not better than they currently are? Are there specific "good old days" you are referring to or are you referring to everything in the past compared to the present? $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Jul 10 '17 at 6:48

The cognitive bias behind nostalgia is called rosy retrospection:

... the psychological phenomenon of people sometimes judging the past disproportionately more positively than they judge the present.

A common explanation for this phenomenon is Socioemotional selectivity theory (SST):

The theory maintains that as time horizons shrink, as they typically do with age, people become increasingly selective, investing greater resources in emotionally meaningful goals and activities. According to the theory, motivational shifts also influence cognitive processing. Aging is associated with a relative preference for positive over negative information in attention and memory (called the "positivity effect").

Related to this, but somewhat different is the Pollyanna principle:

... (also called Pollyannaism or positivity bias) is the tendency for people to remember pleasant items more accurately than unpleasant ones.

  • $\begingroup$ Seeing things through "rose tinted spectacles" can be done with either the past or present. Care is needed if anyone is to judge someone to be suffering from rosy restrospection in the form suggested when sometimes the past can be better than the present. $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Jul 10 '17 at 6:53
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    $\begingroup$ That's right - a cognitive bias is after all, just a bias. $\endgroup$ – Arnon Weinberg Jul 10 '17 at 16:59

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