Why Things Never Seem to Get Better

Any one of us could easily compile a list of things that are wrong in our world. These are real problems and they do matter.

Still, looking at the data objectively, there are lots of things that are getting better. Real strides have been made in longevity and in reducing famine, violence, and the release of particulate matter into the atmosphere, among other things, as Steven Pinker explains in his eye-opening TED2018 talk. So how come we feel like we never get anywhere, as if for every step forward there are two steps back?

Part of it is that progress is uneven: Things get better for some as they get worse for others. Part of it is that bad news is more compelling and thus more often reported than good news. But part of it is due to a common psychological phenomenon called “prevalence-induced concept change.” There’s a new study from Harvard that documents what it is and how it works.

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