Although it is well-known that people feel disconnected from their past and future selves, the underlying mechanism supporting this phenomenon is unknown. As objects increase in distance from an observer, they also become logarithmically compressed in perception (i.e., not differentiated from one another), making them hard to distinguish. Here, we report four studies that suggest we may feel disconnected from distant selves, in part, because they are increasingly indiscriminable with temporal distance from the present self. In Studies 1-3, participants made trait ratings across various time points in the past and future. We found that participants compressed their past and future selves, relative to their present self. This effect was preferential to the self and could not be explained by the alternative possibility that individuals simply perceive arbitrary self-change with time irrespective of temporal distance. In Study 4, we tested for neural evidence of temporal self-compression by having participants complete trait ratings across time points while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Representational similarity analysis (RSA) was used to determine if neural self-representations are compressed with temporal distance, as well. We found evidence of temporal self-compression in areas of the default network, including medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). Specifically, neural pattern similarity between self-representations was logarithmically compressed with temporal distance. Taken together, these findings reveal a ‘temporal self- compression’ effect, with temporal selves becoming increasingly indiscriminable with distance from the present.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience