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Increasing Saving Behavior Through Age-Progressed Renderings of the Future Self

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Many people fail to save what they need to for retirement (Munnell, Webb, and Golub-Sass 2009). Research on excessive discounting of the future suggests that removing the lure of immediate rewards by pre-committing to decisions, or elaborating the value of future rewards can both make decisions more future-oriented. In this article, we explore a third and complementary route, one that deals not with present and future rewards, but with present and future selves. In line with thinkers who have suggested that people may fail, through a lack of belief or imagination, to identify with their future selves (Parfit 1971; Schelling 1984), we propose that allowing people to interact with age-progressed renderings of themselves will cause them to allocate more resources toward the future. In four studies, participants interacted with realistic computer renderings of their future selves using immersive virtual reality hardware and interactive decision aids. In all cases, those who interacted with virtual future selves exhibited an increased tendency to accept later monetary rewards over immediate ones.
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HAL E. HERSHFIELD, DANIEL G. GOLDSTEIN, WILLIAM F. SHARPE, JESSE FOX,
LEO YEYKELIS, LAURA L. CARSTENSEN, and JEREMY N. BAILENSON?
Many people fail to save what they will need for retirement. Research
on excessive discounting of the future suggests that removing the lure
of immediate rewards by precommitting to decisions or elaborating the
value of future rewards both can make decisions more future oriented.
The authors explore a third and complementary route, one that deals
not with present and future rewards but with present and future selves.
In line with research that shows that people may fail, because of a lack
of belief or imagination, to identify with their future selves, the authors
propose that allowing people to interact with age-progressed renderings
of themselves will cause them to allocate more resources to the future. In
four studies, participants interacted with realistic computer renderings of
their future selves using immersive virtual reality hardware and interactive
decision aids. In all cases, those who interacted with their virtual future
selves exhibited an increased tendency to accept later monetary rewards
over immediate ones.
Keywords:retirement saving, temporal discounting, future self-continuity,
immersive virtual reality, intertemporal choice
Increasing Saving Behavior Through
Age-Progressed Renderings of
the Future Self
Although the age associated with retirement is 65 in the
United States, people expect to live approximately 16 years
*Hal E. Hershfield is Assistant Professor of Marketing, New York Uni-
versity (e-mail: hhershfi@stern.nyu.edu). Daniel G. Goldstein is Assistant
Professor of Marketing, London Business School, and Principal Research
Scientist, Yahoo Research (e-mail: dgg@yahoo-inc.com). William F.
Sharpe is STANCO 25 Professor of Finance, Emeritus, Graduate
School of Business, Stanford University (e-mail: wfsharpe@stanford.edu).
Jesse Fox is Assistant Professor of Communication, School of Com-
munication, Ohio State University (e-mail: fox.775@osu.edu). Leo
Yeykelis is a doctoral student, Department of Communication, Stan-
ford University (e-mail: yeyleo@stanford.edu). Laura L. Carstensen is
Fairleigh Dickinson, Jr. Professor of Public Policy and Professor of
Psychology, Department of Psychology, Stanford University (e-mail:
laura.carstensen@stanford.edu). Jeremy N. Bailenson is Associate Profes-
sor of Communication, Department of Communication, Stanford Univer-
sity (e-mail: jbailenson@stanford.edu). This research was supported by a
Russell Sage Behavioral Economics Roundtable grant and U.S. National
Institute on Aging funding through the Center for Advancing Decision
Making in Aging at Stanford University (Grant P30 AG024957) to the
first and last authors, as well as a National Science Foundation grant (HSD
0527377) to the last author. The authors thank Brittany Billmaier, Deonne
Castaneda, Michelle Del Rosario, Shaya Fidel, Felicity Grisham, and
Amanda Le for research assistance and Russell Foltz-Smith and Chinthaka
Herath for technical assistance.
in retirement on average (Arias 2007), which reflects a
gradual increase in retirement length observed since the
nineteenth century (Lee 2001). Unfortunately, with this pro-
longed amount of time spent in retirement, people run
the risk of outliving their money or undergoing a sudden
decrease in quality of life. Using data from the 2004 Survey
of Consumer Finances, Munnell, Webb, and Golub-Sass
(2007) calculate a benchmark replacement rate for each
household and find that 43% of households fell at least 10%
short of reaching target replacement rates. When taking into
account the recent financial crisis, the retirement picture
grows even bleaker. Using the same benchmark replace-
ment rate, Munnell, Webb, and Golub-Sass (2009) find that
a few years later, the percentage of households that would
fall short of reaching their retirement goals had grown
to 51%. Moreover, the McKinsey Global Institute (2008)
observes that fully two-thirds of early baby boomers (born
between 1945 and 1955) do not have the resources to main-
tain their preretirement standards of living in retirement,
perhaps resulting from their inability to forecast the conse-
quences of their investment decisions (Goldstein, Johnson,
and Sharpe 2008). Such a lack of preparedness is particu-
larly problematic in the United States given the status of the
already weakened Social Security system. In the words of
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, “The arithmetic
© 2011, American Marketing Association
ISSN: 0022-2437 (print), 1547-7193 (electronic) S23 Journal of Marketing Research
Vol. XLVIII (November 2011), S23–S37
S24 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, NOVEMBER 2011
is, unfortunately, quite clear” (Chan and Hernandez 2010).
Thus, to avoid overwhelming budget cuts, saving behavior
needs to change.
Discounting of the future has long been described as
exponential in economic models (e.g., Samuelson 1937),
but recent behavioral research suggests that it is bet-
ter explained by a hyperbolic or quasi-hyperbolic func-
tion in certain situations (Kirby and Marakovic 1996;
Laibson 1997; Laibson, Repetto, and Tobacman 1998;
Strotz 1956; Zauberman et al. 2009). In particular, rather
extreme discounting is believed to occur in situations in
which immediate gains (as opposed to short-term gains) are
traded off against long-term ones (Chapman 1996; Fred-
erick, Loewenstein, and O’Donoghue 2002; Laibson 1997;
O’Donoghue and Rabin 1999). Such steep discounting is
believed to lead to decisions that would be rejected with
enough planning (Hoch and Loewenstein 1991; Lynch et al.
2010), and failure to save for retirement is considered a
prototypical example of discounting to excess (Diamond
and Köszegi 2003; Laibson, Repetto, and Tobacman 1998).
Two broad types of remedies aim to increase saving and
reign in excessive discounting (for a review of other inter-
ventions in multiple domains, see Ho, Lim, and Camerer
2006). Remedies of the first type reduce the lure of imme-
diacy and the amount that can be consumed in the present
through precommitment to starting to save at a later date
(e.g., Thaler and Benartzi 2004). Precommitment involves
any device that consumers use to enact constraints in the
present to limit undesirable (or promote desirable) behav-
iors in the future (Ariely and Wertenbroch 2002). Elster
(1977) highlights the example of Ulysses tying himself to
the ship mast so that he could listen to the Sirens’ songs
without jumping overboard, and Schelling (1983) notes
that alcoholics take the drug Antabuse to help them avoid
engaging in future drinking. To this end, several companies
have successfully implemented programs that use precom-
mitment strategies that allow employees to commit future
income to retirement plans (e.g., Choi et al. 2006; Thaler
and Benartzi 2004).
Remedies of the second type increase the appeal of wait-
ing to spend and the expected enjoyment of future spending
by directing people’s imagination to future uses for money.
If consumers are often insensitive to the ways present con-
sumption necessarily limits their ability to spend money
later on (Frederick et al. 2009), this may be due to their
failing to understand the positive future consequences of
waiting (Nenkov, Inman, and Hulland 2008; Nenkov et al.
2009). Indeed, prior research has shown that interventions
that encourage people to elaborate on future outcomes and
consider future uses for money to increase patience on
intertemporal choice tasks (e.g., Weber et al. 2007).
In this article, we explore a third and complementary
route, one that deals not with present and future rewards
but with the connection between present and future selves.
In line with research that shows that people may fail
to identify with their future selves because of a lack of
belief or imagination (Parfit 1971; Schelling 1984), we pro-
pose that having people interact with photorealistic age-
progressed renderings of themselves will cause them to
allocate more resources to the future. In four studies, partic-
ipants interacted with computer-generated representations
of their future selves using immersive virtual reality hard-
ware and interactive decision aids before making decisions
about whether to consume in the present or future.
FUTURE SELF-CONTINUITY
Theoretical Foundations and Empirical Evidence
Philosophers, psychologists, and economists argue that
an important determinant of intertemporal choice is a per-
son’s sense, or lack thereof, of psychological connection
with his or her future self (Ainslie 1975; Elster 1977;
Parfit 1971, 1987; Schelling 1984; Strotz 1956; Thaler and
Shefrin 1981). Psychological connectedness is believed to
vary with respect to the age difference between different
“selves,” such that a person might feel more connection
with his or her future self in one year than in 40 years
and, accordingly, might care less about a distant self (Parfit
1971). At the extreme, with a total lack of psychological
connectedness, a person’s future self might seem like a
different person altogether. As Butler (1736, p. 344) first
noted, “if the self or person of today, and that of tomorrow,
are not the same, but only like persons, the person of today
is really no more interested in what will befall the person of
tomorrow, than in what will befall any other person.” Parfit
(1987, pp. 319–20) expands on this concept, as follows:
If we now care little about ourselves in the fur-
ther future, our future selves are like future genera-
tions. We can affect them for the worse, and, because
they do not now exist, they cannot defend them-
selves. Like future generations, future selves have no
vote, so their interests need to be specially protected.
Reconsider a boy who starts to smoke, knowing
and hardly caring that this may cause him to suffer
greatly fifty years later. This boy does not identify
with his future self. His attitude towards this future
self is in some ways like his attitude to other people.
To people estranged from their future selves, saving is
like a choice between spending money today or giving it
to a stranger years from now. Presumably, the degree to
which people feel connected with their future selves should
make them realize that they are the future recipients and
thus should affect their willingness to save. We hold the
view that it is not important whether in various senses, a
person actually changes over time. Although trait-level per-
sonality characteristics (Roberts and DelVecchio 2000) and
general interests (Low et al. 2005) remain relatively con-
stant over the course of a lifetime, the body’s cells turn
over, and attributes as personal as names, noses, and rep-
utations can be willfully altered beyond recognition. What
matters, however, in the sense of the law, is that one per-
son has but one identity, and with this essential link, the
assets of the present and future selves are yoked together.
Similar to Parfit (1987), we hypothesize that people who
feel as though the future self is a different person fail to
acknowledge this connection, that is, fail to identify with
themselves in the future.
Do people think of the future self as a different person?
Research has demonstrated that people make attributions
about the future self in the same manner as they do for oth-
ers, by attributing the future self’s behavior to dispositional
factors rather than situational ones (Pronin and Ross 2006;
Wakslak et al. 2008), and make decisions for the future
Increasing Saving Behavior S25
self using a similar process they use to make decisions
for other people (Pronin, Olivola, and Kennedy 2008). On
an implicit level, Ersner-Hershfield, Wimmer, and Knutson
(2009) show that thinking about the future self elicits neural
activation patterns that are similar to neural activation pat-
terns elicited by thinking about a stranger. More important,
the degree to which people report feeling connected with
their future selves is related to their intertemporal deci-
sion making. For example, Ersner-Hershfield et al. (2009)
find that higher levels of future self-continuity are posi-
tively associated with financial assets, and Bartels and col-
leagues show that perceived connectedness with the future
self is predictive of choices on several different tempo-
ral discounting tasks (Bartels and Rips 2010) and distinct
from other constructs related to temporal preference, such
as present bias (Bartels and Urminsky 2011). Moreover, in
their neuroimaging study, Ersner-Hershfield et al. (2009)
demonstrate that participants who showed the greatest neu-
ral activation differences between thoughts about the cur-
rent self and thoughts about the future self also showed the
steepest discount rates.
Increasing Connectedness with the Future Self
Parfit (1987, p. 161) remarked that neglecting the future
self might be “caused by some failure of imagination, or
some false belief.” The notion of a future self presents
many challenges to the imagination. With the countless
directions a life and appearance could take, a person might
be unsure with which among this infinity of future selves
to identify. The multiplicity of possible future selves is
acknowledged by Parfit, who cites Proust ([1927] 1981,
p. 631) to illustrate this point: “We are incapable, while
we are in love, of acting as fit predecessors of the person
whom we shall presently have become and who will be in
love no longer.” Similarly, a composite representation of all
future selves would necessarily be impoverished, and the
quest to identify a singular image may result in indecision
or lack of confidence about what the future holds.
Parfit (1987, p. 161) also observes that “when we imag-
ine pains in the further future, we imagine them less
vividly, or believe confusedly that they will somehow be
less real, or less painful.” In line with this sentiment, recent
research has argued that consumers suffer “empathy gaps”
and may misunderstand how they will feel in the future
about decisions they make in the present (Loewenstein,
O’Donoghue, and Rabin 2003; Wilson and Gilbert 2005).
Loewenstein (1996) theorizes that a more vivid impression
of oneself engaging in some action in the future might
intensify the emotions that are linked to thinking about
that scenario. These intensified emotions might, in turn,
enable a person to be better informed about the future
consequences of a present decision. For example, pulmo-
nologists tend to smoke less than other doctors, perhaps
because seeing blackened and withered lungs on a daily
basis increases the negative emotions associated with smok-
ing (Loewenstein 1996).
AGE-PROGRESSED EMBODIMENTS OF
THE FUTURE SELF
To the extent that people can feel more connected with
a vividly imagined future self, they should be motivated to
save more money for the future. Accordingly, in what fol-
lows, we examine the association between seeing an embod-
iment of one’s self in the future and the propensity to save
for retirement or accept later monetary rewards over imme-
diate ones. Although philosophers and psychologists have
used the term “embodied” to signify that organisms are
influenced by their own physical, incarnate bodies (Lakoff
and Johnson 1999), we borrow the term from virtual reality
literature, in which it is associated with a particular visual
or otherwise perceivable representation of a body. As Lanier
(1992) notes, a perceivable embodiment helps forge an asso-
ciation with the self in a digital environment.
In this research, we present people with renderings of
their future selves made using age-progression algorithms
that forecast how physical appearances will change over
time. People are capable of imagining their future selves
at any time, so why should the presentation of renderings
lead to different behavior than that resulting from day-to-
day imagination? We suspect several reasons for this dif-
ference. First, though capable, people may not ordinarily
elect to imagine their future selves. Second, even if people
often imagine their future selves, they may not be imag-
ining themselves at a distant retirement age. Third, imag-
ination of the future may be propositional (“I will have
enough money to leave to my children”) rather than visual;
vivid visual imagery is believed to exert strong influences
on preferences and memory (Loewenstein 1996; Standing
1973). Fourth, as we discussed, an imagined self may be
uncertain, vague, and probabilistic; in contrast, a computer-
ized rendering is definite and specific. Fifth, because people
may have variable confidence in their abilities to imag-
ine their future selves, renderings created by an objective
forecasting model may be viewed as more authoritative.
Last, as Parfit (1971) notes, neglect of the future self can
arise from a failure of the imagination. Because imagina-
tion from the starting point of a graphical rendering may
require less effort and attention than imagination from a
blank slate, people may more easily imagine the future
self when seeded with an image based on their present
appearance (as the renderings in the experiment are). These
studies were motivated, in part, by others who have used
virtual reality as a tool (Blascovich and Bailenson 2011)
to influence consumer behavior (Ahn and Bailenson, in
press), health behavior (Fox and Bailenson 2009), financial
decision making (Yee and Bailenson 2007), and memory
(Segovia and Bailenson 2009).
Our work adds to a growing body of literature that exam-
ines effective interventions for increasing saving behavior.
Whereas previous work has explored how both changing
one’s environment in advance (Ariely and Wertenbroch
2002) and elaborating on potential outcomes can lead to
more patient intertemporal choices (Nenkov, Inman, and
Hulland 2008; Nenkov et al. 2009), our manipulations take
an earlier starting point. Instead of altering the way con-
sumers think about future rewards, the manipulations pre-
sented here seek to aid consumers in imagining the future
self who will benefit (or suffer) from the outcomes of deci-
sions made today.
OVERVIEW
We incorporated a variety of novel technologies in the
current studies, including immersive virtual reality. Blas-
covich and Bailenson (2011) demonstrate the utility of this
S26 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, NOVEMBER 2011
methodology for social science and posit that virtual real-
ity can help recreate situations that are difficult to simulate
in the physical world while maximizing mundane realism
and experimental control. In Study 1, we used immersive
virtual reality to put participants inside a visual representa-
tion of their body and face as they approximately will look
in the future (Yee and Bailenson 2006). Study 2 extends
the results of Study 1 by including more implicit depen-
dent variables and rules out demand effects. Study 3a tests
whether these interventions can work in field conditions—
namely, delivery over the Internet—without special virtual
reality hardware and with only a few user photographs
as input. Finally, Study 3b assesses the generalizability
of the results using a community sample and also exam-
ines the extent to which the manipulations enhance future
self-continuity.
STUDY 1: IMMERSIVE VIRTUAL REALITY AND THE
FUTURE SELF
In Study 1, we used collaborative virtual environments
(CVEs; see Blascovich and Bailenson 2011) to study the
effects of exposure to a digital representation of one’s
future self. Collaborative virtual environments are com-
munication systems in which multiple participants share
the same three-dimensional digital space despite occu-
pying remote physical locations. In a CVE, immersive
virtual environment technology monitors the movements
and behaviors of individual participants and renders those
behaviors within the CVE through avatars. These digital
representations are tracked naturalistically by optical sen-
sors, mechanical devices, and cameras. In Study 1, one
group of participants saw a digital representation of their
current selves in a virtual mirror, and the other group saw
an age-morphed version of their future selves in the vir-
tual mirror. To ensure identification with their avatars and
an equal amount of time spent in the virtual reality envi-
ronment, all participants briefly conversed with a confed-
erate. We hypothesized that the participants who saw the
age-morphed version of their future selves would be more
likely to allocate money to a hypothetical retirement sav-
ings account after exposure than those who saw the current
version of themselves.
Materials
Money allocation task. The money allocation task was
a novel task created for the purposes of this experiment.
In it, participants were told to imagine that they had just
unexpectedly received $1,000 and were asked to allocate
it among four options: “Use it to buy something nice for
someone special,” “Invest it in a retirement fund,” “Plan a
fun and extravagant occasion,” and “Put it into a checking
account.”
Age progression. We first used preset algorithms from a
computer software package (FaceGen Modeller from Sin-
gular Inversions), which (1) locates key points on the face
from a front-on and profile photograph, (2) builds a three-
dimensional model of the face, and (3) morphs the shape
and texture of the model to simulate the aging process to
create a persuasive visual analog of a 70-year-old version
of a current college student. Figure 1 illustrates an exam-
ple of the age-progression procedure. To create the aged
photos, we applied the age-progression algorithm of the
FaceGen Modeller software package with identical settings
Figure 1
EXAMPLE OF MORPHING PROCEDURE
C: Aged Digital Avata
B: Nonaged Digital Avatar
A: Actual Photo of First Author
to each photo. Because the software is specifically designed
to manipulate facial features and not hair, an artist digitally
retouched each image using Adobe Photoshop to change
the original hair color of the participant to gray. We used
an identical procedure (i.e., creating the three-dimensional
model) for the nonaged avatars, except that we did not use
the aging algorithm or gray the hair color.
Virtual reality. In immersive virtual reality environments,
participants can enter an immersive virtual reality system
and see their future self avatars in a virtual mirror
(Bailenson, Beall, and Blascovich 2002). In the simulation,
cameras monitor the movements and behaviors of partic-
ipants and display those behaviors using avatars (digital
representations of people). Figure 2 demonstrates the CVE
apparatus that is in place in Stanford University’s Com-
munication Department, with the critical hardware labeled
with letters. The virtual setting was a white room that had
the exact dimensions as the physical room participants were
in (see Figure 2). Two meters behind the participant was a
virtual mirror that reflected the head orientation (rotations
along pitch, yaw, and roll) and body translation (translation
on X, Y, and Z) of the participant with the designated face.
Thus, the mirror image tracked and reflected six degrees
of freedom such that when the participant moved in phys-
ical space, his or her avatar moved in perfect synchrony
in the mirror. The confederate’s avatar was located five
meters in front of the participant, facing the participant, and
remained invisible until the conversational portion of the
experiment began. In addition, the confederate physically
remained behind a curtain until the conversational portion
of the experimental task.
Increasing Saving Behavior S27
Apparatus. Perspectively correct stereoscopic images
were rendered at an average frame rate of 60 Hz. The
simulated viewpoint was continually updated as a function
of the participants’ head movements, which were tracked
by a three-axis orientation sensing system. The position
of the participant along the X, Y, and Z planes were
tracked with an optical tracking system. Participants wore
an nVisor SX head-mounted display (HMD) that featured
dual 1,280 horizontal ×1,024 vertical pixel resolution pan-
els that refreshed at 60 Hz (for the equipment setup, see
Figure 2).
Figure 2
COLLABORATIVE VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT
Notes: The top panel demonstrates the virtual reality technology: A =
head-mounted display and orientation tracking device, B =behavior track-
ing cameras, and C =image generator. The middle panel demonstrates the
image the user depicted in the top panel sees. As the user moves and
gestures in the physical world, his or her aged virtual self-image in the
mirror moves as well. The bottom panel is a diagram showing the layout
of the room, with the position of the virtual mirror (M), the position of
the participant (S), the curtain, and the position of the confederate (C).
Emotion questionnaire. Participants were asked to rate
the extent to which they felt each of 15 different emo-
tions (positive: accomplishment, amusement, contentment,
excitement, happiness, interest, joy, and pride; negative:
anger, anxiety, disgust, fear, frustration, irritation, sadness).
They rated these emotions on a seven-point scale (from
1=“not at all” to 7 =“extremely”).
Method
Participants. Fifty participants (33 women; M =20013
years) took part in the study. Participants received course
credit or $10.
Experimental procedure. Participants were randomly
assigned to one of two conditions (current self or future
self). Participants were told that they were going to enter
the virtual reality environment to see their own (or aged)
face on a digital avatar and that they would answer a
series of personal interview questions. The experimenter
then showed participants two images of their avatar before
they entered the virtual reality environment. So that partic-
ipants in both conditions saw an equal number of images,
participants in the control condition saw a front and side
view of their digital avatar, and participants in the experi-
mental condition saw the young version of their avatar and
then the age-morphed version.
Next, participants were outfitted in the HMD and entered
the virtual environment, in which they could see their digi-
tal avatar in the virtual mirror in front of them. Participants
saw themselves in a room that had exactly the same dimen-
sions as the physical lab room depicted in Figure 2. In
line with Yee and Bailenson’s (2007) procedure, to enhance
identification with the avatar, the experimenter asked par-
ticipants to turn around 180 degrees and to verify that
they saw a mirror in front of them. After verbal affirma-
tion, several exercises (head tilting and nodding in front of
the mirror) were used to ensure participants had enough
time to observe their avatars’ faces. Every participant thus
was exposed to the designated face for between 60 and
75 seconds.
Participants were then asked to turn back around to
face the front of the room (i.e., their original orientation).
Slightly ahead of time, the experimenter had triggered the
program to make the confederate’s avatar visible to the
participant in the virtual world. The lead research assis-
tant then introduced the confederate to the participant. The
confederate followed a strict script displayed in his or her
HMD so that he or she could follow the specific verbal
procedures while interacting with the participant inside the
CVE (e.g., “What is your name?” “Where are you from?”
“What is your passion in life?”). These interview questions
served to enhance identification between the participant
and his or her avatar (Yee and Bailenson 2007). Confeder-
ates’ behaviors were not scripted, and they were instructed
to use natural head movements when interacting with the
participant.
Following the interview questions, the experimenter
removed participants’ HMD, and the participants then com-
pleted the money allocation task, the emotion question-
naire, and filler tasks for another experiment. After this, the
participants were paid and debriefed.
S28 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, NOVEMBER 2011
Results and Discussion
We hypothesized that participants in the future self
condition would allocate more money to retirement than
participants in the current self condition. In line with this
prediction, participants who were exposed to their future
selves in virtual reality allocated more than twice as much
money to the retirement account (M =$172, SD =$214)
than participants who were exposed to their current selves
(M =$80, SD =$130; t4485=1083, p=0035 [one-tailed],
d=0519).
It is possible, however, that seeing their aged face
depressed participants’ current mood. If this was the case,
the appeal of the short-term options (e.g., planning a
fun and extravagant occasion) in the monetary allocation
questionnaire might have been diminished not because of
enhanced connectedness with the future self but because
these amusing options were less appealing when experienc-
ing negative moods. (See the work of Cryder et al. [2008]
though, which demonstrates that sadness leads to more
spending.) Such a scenario would leave a larger amount of
money to be devoted to the long-term saving option. How-
ever, the results indicate that participants in the future self
condition (M =2052, SD =095) did not exhibit significantly
stronger negative emotions (M =2062, SD =1027) than par-
ticipants in the current self condition (t4485=033, p=075).
Furthermore, when we control for the average of all neg-
ative emotions, condition is still a predictor of the amount
of money allocated to retirement (F411475=3019, p=004
[one-tailed]).
Thus, the results suggest that interaction with a vivid
version of their future self causes people to give modestly
greater weight to long-term saving. It is possible, however,
that the study’s demand characteristics played a role in par-
ticipants’ behavior (Orne 1962). Although informal postex-
periment interviews suggested that this was not the case,
in Study 2 we attempted to formally rule out these demand
characteristics.
STUDY 2: RULING OUT DEMAND CHARACTERISTICS
In Study 2, we tried to rule out two alternative expla-
nations for our findings from Study 1. First, because the
monetary allocation task occurred directly after the virtual
reality paradigm, it is possible that participants in the exper-
imental condition felt pressure to allocate more to the long-
term account. Thus, in Study 2, we separated the virtual
reality portion of the study from the decision-making por-
tion and provided a cover story that masked our research
purposes. Second, it is possible that participants in the
experimental condition were merely primed with the con-
cept of aging, and this prime prompted them to save more
for retirement (i.e., Bargh and Chartrand 1999). As such,
in Study 2, we exposed participants to either their own
aged avatar or another research participant’s aged avatar.
Finally, we attempted to extend our findings to three dif-
ferent dependent variables. That is, we used a short-term
temporal discounting task, a long-term temporal discount-
ing task, and a retirement spending questionnaire. Including
all three measures enabled us to test the degree to which
our manipulations increase a focus on the future self for
all types of intertemporal choices rather than just long-term
ones. Although short- and long-term discounting may have
different processes (McClure et al. 2004), opting for larger
later rewards in both cases might nonetheless be linked
to better saving behavior. That is, by repeatedly forgoing
short-term rewards, a person could inevitably end up saving
more over the long run (Thaler and Shefrin 1981); money
not spent on pleasurable experiences in the present can be
used for other purposes in the future. Thus, we hypothe-
sized that participants who interacted with avatars depict-
ing their future selves, as opposed to future others, would
demonstrate a greater willingness to choose larger, future
rewards on all three tasks.
Materials
Short-term temporal discounting task. The temporal dis-
counting task consisted of 21 choice trials (Kirby and
Marakovic 1996). Each trial included one smaller imme-
diate reward paired with one larger delayed reward.
Immediate values ranged from $15 to $83, and the delayed
values ranged from $30 to $85 over delays of 10 days
to 75 days. The task was incentive compatible: Partici-
pants were instructed that at the end of the experimen-
tal session, one response would be chosen at random and
participants would be paid 33% of that choice at the appro-
priate delay. For example, if on a given question a partic-
ipant chose $30 in 27 days, he or she would receive $10
in 27 days. We counted the number of delayed choices
to index discount rate (Magen, Dweck, and Gross 2008).
Although Kirby and Marakovic’s (1996) procedure excludes
data from people who chose either all the immediate or
all the delayed options, Magen, Dweck, and Gross’s (2008)
procedure has the advantage of retaining these people for
subsequent analysis.
Long-term temporal discounting task. We created the
long-term temporal discounting task for the purposes of
this experiment, basing it on Kirby and Marakovic’s
(1996) short-term temporal discounting task. Again, each
trial included one smaller immediate reward paired with
one larger delayed reward. As in Kirby and Marakovic
(1996), we used the hyperbolic discounting function V =A/
41+kD5, where V is the value of a present (or immediately
available) gain, A is the amount of a future gain, k is a dis-
count parameter that varies across respondents, and D is the
amount of time that respondents must wait for the future
gain (Mazur 1987). Discount rates (k) ranged from .07 to
.86. Immediate values ranged from $2,575 to $25,840, and
the delayed values ranged from $76,965 to $98,191 over
delays of 35 years to 40 years. Again, we counted the num-
ber of delayed choices to index the discount rate.
Retirement spending questionnaire. The retirement
spending questionnaire (Binswanger and Carman 2009)
consisted of one question that asked participants to choose
between six options of how they would like to spend
the money they earned during their lifetime. Each option
detailed the amount of money the participant could spend
monthly during his or her working life and during retire-
ment. For example, Option 1 detailed a case in which the
participant could spend $2,950 per month during his or
her working life and $1,900 per month during retirement.
At the other end of the spectrum, Option 6 detailed a case
in which the participant could spend $2,600 per month
during his or her working life and $3,600 per month during
Increasing Saving Behavior S29
retirement. Thus, higher scores on this scale were associ-
ated with greater allocation to retirement. Participants were
explicitly told to answer the question as if prices remained
constant (i.e., as if there was no inflation).
Method
Participants. Twenty-one participants (15 women; M =
20.08 years) took part in the study. Participants received
$10 and were told that the experiment would take approx-
imately one hour to complete.
Experimental procedure. Participants were assigned to
one of two conditions (future self or future other) and were
given the following instructions: Participants were told that
we were experimenting with technology that would put
their own aged face (or someone else’s aged face) on a dig-
ital avatar. Next, participants were brought into the same
immersive virtual reality environment as Study 1, in which
they could see either their own digital avatar in a virtual
mirror in front of them (future self condition) or the aged
digital avatar of another same-sex and same-race participant
(future other condition). As in Study 1, we conducted Yee
and Bailenson’s (2007) procedure to enhance identification
with the avatar.
Participants were allotted three minutes to talk about the
ways they were similar (e.g., in personality, appearance,
temperament, major preferences, beliefs, values, ambitions)
to the person depicted by the avatar in the mirror. After
three minutes, the experimenter took the HMD off the par-
ticipants, and the participants then completed several short
filler questionnaires asking them about their experience
in the virtual reality environment. To eliminate demand
characteristics, we ostensibly separated the manipulation
from our main dependent variables. That is, after partic-
ipants completed the questionnaires, a computer message
appeared notifying them that they had completed the exper-
imental session. At this point in the study, however, approx-
imately 45 minutes had elapsed, and participants had been
led to believe that they were participating in an hour-long
experiment at a pay rate of $10 per hour. The experimenter
feigned surprise at the early completion time and told par-
ticipants that they were free to go but that to receive the full
$10, they needed to be present for a full hour of research
participation. Participants were then told that there were
a few other short surveys that were being conducted in
the lab by other researchers in which they could partic-
ipate to earn the remaining pay. All participants agreed
to participate in the additional survey. To further mask
our research purposes, participants were ostensibly given
a choice of three different surveys in which to partici-
pate. All three surveys, however, linked to the same set
of questionnaires: the short-term temporal discounting task,
the long-term temporal discounting task, and the retirement
spending questionnaire. On completing these tasks, partic-
ipants were debriefed and paid.
Results and Discussion
To measure the unique impact of interacting with one’s
future self on saving behavior, we conducted a repeated
measures analysis of variance on standardized scores
from the three dependent variables (short-term temporal
discounting task: MFuture Self =036, SDFuture Self =1004 and
MFuture Other = −032, SDFuture Other =089; long-term temporal
discounting task: MFuture Self =027, SDFuture Self =083 and
MFuture Other = −025, SDFuture Other =1011; retirement spend-
ing questionnaire: MFuture Self =028, SDFuture Self =099 and
MFuture Other = −025, SDFuture Other =099). The results indicated
that participants in the future self condition exhibited more
saving behavior across the three tasks than participants in
the future other condition (F411195=4014, p=0056).
Thus, Study 2 employed a well-masked paradigm in
which we directly compared the effects of interacting with
one’s imagined future self with those of interacting with
another imagined older person. In line with our prediction,
vivid exposure to one’s future self in an immersive virtual
reality environment, compared with exposure to another
person’s older avatar, led to increased saving in both short-
and long-term decision-making tasks.
In both Studies 1 and 2, we presented age-progressed
renderings of the future self but did not discuss the
consequences of decisions made in the present. Further-
more, although these findings are encouraging concep-
tually, because of high costs and time efficiency, most
companies are not able to use immersive virtual reality to
convince their employees to contribute additional money
to retirement accounts. Accordingly, in Study 3a we strove
to highlight future consequences of present decisions and
to translate our methods and findings to more accessible
formats for widespread use as an intervention.
STUDY 3A: GENERALIZATION TO FIELD
CONDITIONS
Whereas Study 2 aimed to rule out demand effects,
this study takes an applied perspective and gives the vir-
tual renderings emotional qualities to intentionally exert a
demand or “nudge” in the context of an online decision aid.
The decision aid provides users with accurate estimates of
present and future spending levels that will be attainable
given various saving rates. Its estimates, which we describe
in the appendix, take inflation, earnings growth, employer
401k contribution match, age, Social Security, and many
other factors into account. The information is so useful
that it alone could serve as a basis for prudent savings
decisions, and providing participants with this information
should greatly reduce their uncertainly about how saving
will affect their material wealth in the short and long run.
Owing to this, the present design enables us to mitigate the
effect of income uncertainty when estimating the persuasive
effect of the virtual renderings. The second objective of this
study is to test whether the kind of intervention proposed
can be practically adapted for widespread Internet partic-
ipation from home, office, or elsewhere. To conduct this
study, no virtual reality hardware was necessary, and people
needed only to submit three digital photos to take part.
The ability to imagine vividly not just the face of the
future self but also the emotional reactions of the future
self may affect the willingness to save for the future. Vir-
tual reality research has demonstrated that exposure to vir-
tual cause-and-effect actions can change actual behavior.
For example, participants shown virtual versions of them-
selves losing weight with exercise and gaining weight with
inactivity were more likely than controls to exercise after-
ward (Fox and Bailenson 2009). To test whether exposure
to an emotional future self can affect the propensity to
S30 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, NOVEMBER 2011
save for retirement, participants in two conditions inter-
acted with current or age-progressed renderings of them-
selves that appeared to respond emotionally to changes in
income.
Materials
Age progression. In the first phase of the study, partic-
ipants came in person to the laboratory, where they were
photographed making happy, sad, and neutral facial expres-
sions. They then were instructed that they would take part
in the remainder of the study online.
Using the three photos as a starting point, we prepared
three age-progressed photos (for participants in the future
self condition) or three unaged photos (for participants in
the current self condition). Each set of three photos served
as the basis for 11 emotional variant photos in two sets.
A “future” set of 11 photos showed the participants as they
might look as older adults (approximately age 65), with
levels of facial expression ranging from sad to happy. The
“present” set had the same 11 levels of facial expression
but showed the participants at their current age.
To create the three aged photos, we used the same proce-
dure as Study 1, employing the age-progression algorithm
of the FaceGen Modeller software package and Adobe
Photoshop to change the hair color to gray. We created the
11 emotional variant photos within the present and future
sets using FantaMorph software to make “morphs” of the
sad, neutral, and happy input images. A morph is akin to
a weighted average of two images and looks quite natural
(Bailenson et al. 2008). We applied the weighting scheme
in Table 1 to create the morphs. This process was the same
for making the present and future photos, the only differ-
ence being the three starting images used.
Retirement allocation slider bar. In both conditions, par-
ticipants decided how much they would like to contribute
to their retirement fund. To help make this decision, they
were given a slider that controls their level of contribution.
Instead of showing participants the percentage of salary
saved at each slider position (which is not particularly
informative for making such decisions), as they explored
Table 1
WEIGHTING OF INPUT PHOTOS TO CREATE MORPHS
Expression Input Weight 1 Input Weight 2
Level Photo 1 (%) Photo 2 (%)
1 (saddest) Sad 99 Neutral 1
2 Sad 80 Neutral 20
3 Sad 60 Neutral 40
4 Sad 40 Neutral 60
5 Sad 20 Neutral 80
6 Happy 1 Neutral 99
7 Happy 20 Neutral 80
8 Happy 40 Neutral 60
9 Happy 60 Neutral 40
10 Happy 80 Neutral 20
11 (happiest) Happy 99 Neutral 1
Notes: Morphs are composite photos made from two input photos.
Expression levels 1, 6, and 11 use 1% weighting to ensure that all photos
will indeed be morphs and not original images.
various levels, the interface indicated how much their cur-
rent and future income would be affected by their allocation
decision. In Figure 3, the left-hand-side percentage displays
current income as a percentage of salary remaining after
contributions to Social Security and Medicare. The right-
hand-side percentage value displays income in retirement
expressed as a percentage of income in the year immedi-
ately before retirement. Both percentages updated dynami-
cally as the cursor moved over the slider.
We calculated the values represented on the slider
in the same manner in both conditions, and they are
based on the detailed financial model summarized in the
appendix. The inputs given to the model were the same
for all participants and chosen to be representative for stu-
dents at the university where the studies were conducted.
In particular, the model made its calculations based on a
person aged 22, starting work at age 23, retiring at age 68,
and earning a salary of $64,000 (in today’s dollars) by
age 40. Allowable percentages of salary that could be saved
toward retirement ranged from 0% to 10%. These parame-
ters helped generate realistic trade-offs (in percentage terms)
for typical American college students and were never seen
by the participants.
Figure 3 depicts the interface in the present and future
conditions, and Figure 4 gives an indication of how the
movement of the slider bar affected the emotions of the
Figure 3
THE CURRENT SELF (TOP) AND FUTURE SELF (BOTTOM)
CONDITIONS OF STUDY 3A
Please use the scale below to indicate your preferred
retirement allocation
Please use the scale below to indicate your preferred
retirement allocation
Current Annual
Income
XX%
Current Annual
Income
XX%
Retirement
Income
XX%
Retirement
Income
XX%
Next
Next
Increasing Saving Behavior S31
Figure 4
THE POSITION OF THE SLIDER AFFECTS FACIAL
EXPRESSIONS IN THE PHOTOS DISPLAYED IN STUDY 3A
Please use the scale below to indicate your preferred
retirement allocation
Please use the scale below to indicate your preferred
retirement allocation
Please use the scale below to indicate your preferred
retirement allocation
Current Annual
Income
XX%
Current Annual
Income
XX%
Current Annual
Income
XX%
Retirement
Income
XX%
Retirement
Income
XX%
Retirement
Income
XX%
Next
Next
Next
Notes: The position of the slider affects facial expressions in the photos
displayed in Study 3a. This figure depicts the future self condition. As
the slider moves to the left (top third), the future face becomes sadder,
consistent with having less money in retirement. When the slider is in
the middle (middle third), the future face has a neutral expression. As the
slider moves to the right (bottom third), the future face becomes happier.
future face. We provide information on the behavior of the
present face as follows: When the present face is displayed,
it becomes happier as the slider moves left (and present
income increases) and sadder as the slider moves right
(and present income decreases). However, in the future
self condition, the future self face becomes sadder as
the slider moves left (and retirement income decreases)
and happier as the slider moves right (and retirement
income increases). Both percentages are always visible to
participants in both conditions. Because these percentages
provide detailed information about the trade-offs of sav-
ing and should reduce participants’ uncertainty about the
material consequences of saving, estimates of treatment
effects should be conservative and relatively isolated from
the effect of uncertainty. In practice, savers are not able
to estimate their future income levels as easily as with the
decision aid, so the persuasive effect of the faces may also
be conservative relative to what would be obtained in the
field. In addition, to control for other factors that might bias
the results, we asked participants to complete two scales.
MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status. We used
the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status (Adler
et al. 2000) to capture participants’ socioeconomic status
(SES). The scale is in a pictorial format, presents a ten-
runged “social ladder,” and asks participants to click on
the rung on which they believe they stand in relation to
other people in the United States. Scores on the ladder have
been predicted by employment grade, education, household
and personal income, household wealth, satisfaction with
standard of living, and feelings of financial security (Adler
et al. 2008) (M =7008, SD =1070).
Perceived income stability. To assess participants’ beliefs
about their future careers, we asked them to report how sta-
ble they believed the income flow would be in their future
careers. They rated this on a five-point scale (M =3083,
SD =090).
Method
Participants. Participants were 42 students (22 women;
M=21000 years) who were recruited from a university sub-
ject pool and agreed to participate in a study on decision
making for a $15 Amazon.com gift certificate. Participants
were randomly assigned to one of two groups: future self
(n =21) and current self (n =21).
Procedure. In the second phase of the study, three to four
weeks after the participants were photographed, all par-
ticipants received an e-mail inviting them to complete the
study online. The URLs in the e-mails were customized so
that participants saw their own photos. Participants were
given instructions on how the slider bar would affect cur-
rent and future income and how to interpret the numbers
at each end of the slider, after which they read a variant
of the following sentence modified to reflect whether they
would see their present face or future face: “Additionally,
you will see a virtual image of yourself now (at retire-
ment age), to clarify how the movements of the slider affect
your income while you are working (future income).” The
next web page contained a four-alternative multiple-choice
question testing comprehension of the relationship between
the slider bar movement and the amounts of present and
future income. Participants failing to answer the question
correctly were directed back to the instruction pages until
they passed the test.
At this point, participants were presented with the deci-
sion aid. To avoid anchoring effects, the slider did not
have a visible handle set to any point. Instead, a vertical
line intersecting the slider appeared when the mouse hov-
ered over the slider bar. The hovering point of the mouse
determined the continuously updated current and retirement
income percentages as well as the facial expression (from
happy to sad), according to condition. When participants
S32 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, NOVEMBER 2011
clicked on the slider bar, a gray line appeared to mark their
last active choice, and they were given the option to submit
this choice or to continue exploration. On submission, the
slider bar position and sequence of clicks were recorded to
the database.
After the retirement allocation task, participants com-
pleted a demographics questionnaire (in which they
answered questions about sex, age, and race/ethnicity), the
MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status, and the per-
ceived income stability item. Participants were debriefed
by e-mail.
Results and Discussion
Retirement allocation. We compared the effect of condi-
tion (current self or future self) on retirement allocation.1
In line with our prediction, participants in the future self
condition allocated a significantly higher percentage of pay
to retirement (M =6076%, SD =1068%) than participants
in the current self condition (M =5020%, SD =2035%;
t4385=2038, p=0023, d =0771). Although the effect size
for this result is medium, the difference between conditions
of 1.56 percentage points is practically quite significant.
Potential moderators. Because previous research has
demonstrated that both SES (Grable 2000; Henry 2005)
and income stability (Bajtelsmit and Bernasek 2001) affect
retirement allocation decisions, we independently tested the
moderating role of these variables. Following Judd and
Kenny’s (2010) recommendation, we first centered all pre-
dictor variables and created interaction terms by taking the
product of condition and SES and the product of condi-
tion and perceived stability. The results indicated that nei-
ther SES (condition ×SES interaction; Â=024, t4365=099,
p=033) nor perceived income stability (Â= −015, t4365=
083, p=041) was a significant moderator, and condition
remained a significant, positive predictor of retirement allo-
cation when we controlled for SES (Â=036, t4365=2033,
p=0025) and perceived income stability (Â=036, t4365=
2027, p=0029).
STUDY 3B: STRONGER TEST OF GENERALIZATION
TO FIELD CONDITIONS
In Study 3b, we attempted to rule out an alternative
explanation for the findings from Study 3a. That is, it might
be that instead of the results being due to exposure to
the future self, they are due to participants reacting to the
valence of the different faces. Rather than being motivated
to save more by the presence of the future self, partici-
pants could have merely been moving the retirement slider
bar toward whichever face was smiling. To correct for this
potential confound, we conducted an additional experiment
that was identical to Study 3a, except that instead of pre-
senting participants with emotional images of their current
or future selves, we exposed them to neutral versions of
these selves (i.e., faces that neither frowned nor smiled).
Study 3b had two additional purposes. First, to ensure
that the results from the first three studies were generaliz-
able, participants in Study 3b were adults from a national
1Two participants from the future self condition were outliers in that
they made a retirement allocation that was more than 1.5 times the
interquartile range of the scale, and thus we excluded them from further
analysis.
online pool (as opposed to undergraduate students from a
university). Second, we examined a potential mechanism
that could underlie the relationship between exposure to the
future self and enhanced saving behavior. Because impov-
erished intertemporal decision making has been linked to a
lack of continuity with one’s future self (Bartels and Rips
2010; Ersner-Hershfield et al. 2009), we assessed whether
the present manipulation would actually boost continuity
with that self. To do so, we gave participants the Future
Self-Continuity Scale (Ersner-Hershfield et al. 2009). We
hypothesized that participants exposed to images of their
future selves would allocate more current income to retire-
ment and report a greater sense of continuity with their
future selves. We further hypothesized that future self-
continuity would act as a mediator between experimental
condition and retirement allocation.
Method
Future Self-Continuity Scale. The Future Self-Continuity
Scale, which is based on Aron, Aron, and Smollan’s (1992)
Inclusion of the Other in the Self Scale, measures the
degree to which participants feel similar to their future
selves. Participants pick a pair of Euler circles (out of
a possible seven pairs) that best represents how similar
they feel to their future selves in ten years’ time (for
a more detailed description, see Ersner-Hershfield et al.
2009). Higher scores indicate more continuity with one’s
future self.
Participants. Participants were 40 adults of U.S. nation-
ality aged 18 to 35 (22 women; M =26027 years) who were
recruited from the Mechanical Turk online community and
agreed to participate in a study on virtual reality in exchange
for $11. The study comprised two parts. In the first part,
potential participants submitted photographs of themselves
holding up a sign that displayed the current date and time.
This helped verify that the photos were indeed those of the
participants and not stock photos. A few weeks later, in the
second part, the 56 participants who submitted acceptable
photos were randomly assigned to either the future self or
the current self groups. The response rates did not differ
significantly by condition (68% in the future self condition
vs. 75% in the current self condition; Õ2411N=405=035,
p=055). During the experiment, we administered a question
to ensure that participants understood the task instructions;
one participant from each condition failed this test. Our final
sample contained 18 participants in the future self condition
and 20 in the current self condition.
Procedure. The experimental procedure was identical to
that of Study 3a except for three key differences. First,
participants uploaded their photos instead of being pho-
tographed in person. This helps ensure that a wide range of
photos can be used for this type of treatment in the field.
Second, and most important, instead of seeing an image of
their current or future self that changed emotional expres-
sion as a function of their retirement allocation decision,
participants saw a fixed image of their current or future self
that maintained a neutral expression. That is, as participants
altered their retirement allocations, the facial expression on
the image of their current or future self (depending on the
condition) did not change. Third, participants also com-
pleted the Future Self-Continuity Scale. Thus, we wanted
to determine whether the result of Experiment 3a would
Increasing Saving Behavior S33
replicate (1) without the faces having emotional expres-
sions, (2) with photos taken in a variety of conditions, and
(3) with a national sample of participants.
Results
We compared the retirement allocations of the present
self and future self conditions. In line with our prediction,
participants in the future self condition allocated a signifi-
cantly higher percentage of pay to retirement (M =6017%,
SD =2030%) than participants in the current self condition
(M =4041%, SD =2044%; t4365=2028, p=0029, d =0742).
As in Studies 1, 2, and 3a, exposure to an age-progressed
rendering of the future self led to an increase in saving
behavior.
Participants in the future self condition also reported a
higher level of continuity with their future selves (M =
4039, SD =1061) than participants in the current self condi-
tion (M =3025, SD =1092; t4365=1097, p=0057, d =064).
Furthermore, we found evidence for mediation: When we
regressed allocation percentage on condition and future self
continuity, the direct effect from condition to retirement
became nonsignificant (Â=0235, t4355=1054, p=0134),
while future self continuity remained a significant predic-
tor of retirement allocation (Â=0384, t4355=2051, p=
0017). Preacher and Hayes’s (2008) bootstrapping proce-
dures establish that this mediation is indeed significant—
the bias-corrected confidence interval (CI) of the bootstrap-
ping mediation test did not include zero (CI95% =00757,
1.5731; N =38; 10,000 resamples).
GENERAL DISCUSSION
This work represents the first demonstration of a new
kind of intervention in which people can be encouraged to
make more future-oriented choices by having them inter-
act with age-progressed renderings of their own likenesses.
In four separate studies, using both undergraduate students
and community members as participants, we provide evi-
dence that manipulating exposure to visual representations
of one’s future self leads to lower discounting of future
rewards and higher contributions to saving accounts. More-
over, Study 2 shows that these effects are not due to think-
ing about aging per se or to demand effects, but rather
can arise simply from direct exposure to renderings of the
future self. Studies 3a and 3b demonstrated that effects
of this type may be able to translate to the field at low
expense. The findings were modest with medium to large
effect sizes (Cohen 1988) and were consistent across the
four studies in the predicted direction. We set out to explore
and test a novel methodology, and thus the results should
be interpreted as preliminary. However, given the U.S. sit-
uation of low saving rates and increasing life expectancy,
the results are encouraging and have a managerial impli-
cation: When people make important long-term decisions,
vivid representations of their future selves should increase
their future orientation of saving decisions.
This visual intervention may in some sense address the
failures of belief or imagination about which Parfit (1987)
wrote. Study 3b demonstrated that exposure to an image of
one’s future self increases continuity with that future self.
However, we still do not fully understand all the underlying
psychological processes that are affected by our manipula-
tions, and there is much research to be done on this topic.
It might be that exposure to the future self causes more
parity in emotional experiences between the current self
and the future self. As we noted previously, research on
the hot–cold empathy gap (Loewenstein, O’Donoghue, and
Rabin 2003) suggests that the emotions a person feels in
the present are much stronger than the emotions he or she
expects to feel in the future. Such empathy gaps are not
borne out by experience: Most similarly valenced emotional
occurrences take on a similar profile whether they occur
today or in five years. Thus, a reason people make unwise
intertemporal choices is that they erroneously allocate too
much weight to the feelings of the seemingly more emo-
tional current self and not enough to the future self. Our
manipulation could work by helping consumers recognize
that the future self will be just as emotional as the current
self is. Alternatively, the effectiveness of our manipulation
may rest in its ability to force consumers to temper the
emotions they feel in the present to make them more in
line with those they expect to feel in the future.
It is also possible that our manipulations were success-
ful in part because they were considerably more engaging
than traditional interventions. To the extent that consumers
are more likely to follow through on self-control tasks
that are fun and engaging (Laran and Janiszewski 2011),
manipulations such as ours that rely on age-progression
visualizations may, in addition to enhancing connectedness
with the future self, make thinking about saving for retire-
ment a more entertaining and compelling endeavor. A bet-
ter understanding of the underlying process would inform
future interventions aimed at helping people save more for
retirement.
Limitations and Future Directions
Hypothetical exercises. We used novel technology—
immersive virtual reality and realistic age-progression
software—to assist the imagination. The theoretical foun-
dation on which we based our hypotheses, however, does
not necessarily suggest that people must see representa-
tions of their future selves. Parfit (1987), Schelling (1984),
and Loewenstein (1996) simply claim that future focus
will increase to the extent that a person is aware that his
or her future self is a living, breathing individual who
is dependent on the choices of the current self. We pre-
dicted that using immersive virtual reality and realistic age-
morphing software would be a particularly compelling and
effective method because it does not rely on differences in
imagination abilities; age-progression software and immer-
sive virtual reality can make the future self more realis-
tic regardless of a person’s ability to envision the future.
Nevertheless, it possible that hypothetical exercises that
bring the future self into one’s mind (e.g., composing a
letter to the future self) are also effective at increasing long-
term saving behavior. We discussed how imagination dif-
fers from interacting with renderings, and further research
could test whether such differences matter.
Temporal duration of effects. In all four studies, partic-
ipants made intertemporal choices either during or shortly
after exposure to their future selves (or current selves). As
such, the temporal duration of our manipulations remains
unknown. However, we believe that the most important
practical application of future self saliency manipulations
occurs in the actual decision-making moment. Indeed, the
S34 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, NOVEMBER 2011
decision of how much of a paycheck to allocate to a 401(k)
is normally made once and is rarely revisited (Benartzi
and Thaler 2007; Madrian and Shea 2001; Samuelson and
Zeckhauser 1988). Thus, the moment a person makes an
intertemporal choice is arguably the most important time
to consider the interests of the future self. To this end, in
ongoing work, we are exploring the effectiveness of using
the slider bar paradigm from Studies 3a and 3b to aid real
employees when they are making their retirement decisions.
This endeavor will help us determine whether decisions
made on the hypothetical retirement allocation task from
Studies 3a and 3b translate to incentive-compatible rewards.
(Previous research has demonstrated that discounting rates
of real versus hypothetical rewards show similar patterns
[Coller and Williams 1999].)
Age differences in effectiveness of manipulation. Simi-
larly, in the studies, we used a relatively young sample of
research participants. This choice was deliberate because
the optimal time to begin saving for retirement is early in
life (Bernheim, Skinner, and Weinberg 2001). It is unclear,
however, whether vivid exposure to the future self would
hold such powerful effects for older consumers (Yoon,
Cole, and Lee 2009).
Generalizability of novel technology. One final limitation
of the current work is that we relied on technology that is
not readily available. However, the use of avatars and vir-
tual worlds is accelerating greatly. Game platforms, such
as Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s new Kinect, are trans-
forming the realm of home entertainment into an immersive
experience, and as a result of the recent success of three-
dimensional movies, such as Up and Avatar, new stereo dis-
plays will be available for consumers to purchase in 2011
(Blascovich and Bailenson 2011). Technology’s develop-
ment is accelerating, and the notion of people interacting
through avatars with their bank accounts or financial plan-
ners is not an outlandish one. The intervention in Stud-
ies 3a and 3b requires only a camera and a connection
with the Internet, both of which can be found on many
smartphones and other portable web-enabled devices. Sim-
ilar face-rendering applications already exist; they require
the user to upload a photo and wait approximately ten sec-
onds for a result. On the iPhone platform, for example, one
application allows a user to upload a photo taken with his
or her phone and then instantly see what he or she would
look like after gaining roughly 100 pounds. Nonetheless,
given the general difficulty that most employers have in
encouraging employees to sign up for benefits programs,
implementing the interventions from Studies 3a and 3b on
a mass-scale would by no means be a simple endeavor.
Conclusion
Because of the confluence of increasing life expectancy,
a weakened economy, and a large number of underpre-
pared households, persuading consumers to save more for
retirement is an issue of great economic importance. To
complement interventions that emphasize or deemphasize
the appeal of present and future rewards, the current work
operates on another distinction—that between present and
future selves—to increase saving for the future.
APPENDIX: THE USER INTERFACE
The user is asked to give his or her sex. All other param-
eters are set by the software. The setting is one in which
the user has one decision variable: the percentage of gross
salary to be contributed to a 401(k) plan each year. The user
chooses this percentage by moving a slider. The leftmost
position involves no such contribution. The effect is shown
by a number or picture representing the average percentage
of net income to gross income during the working years.
The net income is gross income less employee contribu-
tions for social security and Medicare and contributions to
the 401(k) plan.
The output of the financial model is the ratio of net
retirement income in the first year of retirement to the gross
income in the year before retirement. This is shown by a
number or picture on the right. As the slider moves right,
the ratio for the working years falls and the ratio for the
retirement years rises.
Preretirement Assumptions
The user is assumed to be 22 years old, to start work
at 23, to have saved $5,000 already, and to retire at age 68.
All calculations are in real terms. The user is assumed to
have a salary history that follows a path consistent with the
cross-section of average earnings for year-round workers
in the United States and an annual progression of average
real wages of 1.1% per year (consistent with the intermedi-
ate projections of the U.S. Social Security Administration).
The assumed path is calibrated to reach a real value of
$64,000 per year when the worker is age 40.
The position of the slider determines the user’s desired
contribution to a 401(k) plan, expressed as a percentage
of salary. His or her employer is assumed to provide a
contribution equal to 50% of the user’s contribution, up to
6% of salary, the most common formula used by employers
in the United States. The employee’s contribution is capped
at a real amount equal to $16,500 in real terms, increased
by 1.1% per year, on the assumption that the law is changed
to keep up with real wages.
During the working years, salary is reduced by deduc-
tions for Social Security and Medicare. The former is equal
to 6.2% of employee pay up to a cap that starts at $106,800
and is assumed to increase in real terms by 1.1% per year.
The latter is assumed to equal 2.9% of salary in every year.
Postretirement Assumptions
When the worker retires, income is assumed to come
from Social Security payments less the Medicare deduction
plus money received from an annuity purchased at retire-
ment with the proceeds from the 401(k) fund.
The Social Security benefits are based on the aver-
age indexed Social Security earnings for the 35 highest
years of contributions. The formula includes two break-
points that are assumed to increase in real terms during
the user’s working life by the assumed real wage growth
rate of 1.1%. From this amount, a constant real value of
$1,152 is deducted each year to cover Medicare costs after
retirement.
Contributions to the 401(k) account during the working
years are assumed to earn an annual riskless real rate of
interest of 2.5%. This falls between the real rate assumed
Increasing Saving Behavior S35
in Social Security projections (2.9% in 2009) and typical
rates on long-term Treasury Inflation Protected Securities
(slightly under 2% in mid-2010). With these assumptions,
the real value of the account when the user reaches retire-
ment age is calculated. The proceeds are assumed to be
used to purchase a single-person real annuity, priced using
the Society of Actuaries’ Table RP-2000 mortality assump-
tions, a real rate of interest of 2.5%, and a 15% surcharge
for costs and compensation for mortality table risk.
Finally, real retirement income for the first postretirement
year is computed by adding to the 401(k) annuity income
the Social Security benefit and subtracting the Medicare
deduction. This is divided by the real salary for the last
working year to provide the value for the right-hand side
of the slider.
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... saving more, and having better educational records [e.g., [3][4]. In contrast, people who are more focused on the present are also more likely to act on impulse and prefer immediate rewards over larger, delayed rewards [1,2]. ...
... Strengthening the degree to which people identify with their future self may increase their tendency to make choices that favor the needs and wants of the future self over those of the present self [11]. In support of this assumption, empirical research shows that increasing the vividness of the future self is related to positive outcomes in different domains such as reduced delinquency [9,10], increased exercise behavior [7], and higher savings [4]. Thus, future self-identification seems to positively affect psychosocial functioning. ...
... Each session contains one or two rounds of structured interaction, in which participants read out loud the questions on the cards, 4 and one round in which they are free to ask their own questions to their future self. In line with the app, the scripted questions are designed to (1) create a vivid image of their future self, (2) trigger thinking about the future, (3) strengthen the connection with their future self, and (4) practice with temporal and psychological distancing by switching perspectives. ...
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A multi-threaded and simultaneous way of working and solving tasks is one of the challenges of modern management. Multitasking shapes the need for employees to have new skills, competences and a change in mentality, as well as to introduce a management system that will increase the efficiency of employees' activities. Skilful coping with multitasking contributes to a more harmonious and balanced functioning of the organization. The problem of multitasking is usually analysed in the context of private enterprises, whose flexibility and capabilities are much greater than in the case of public organizations. Therefore, the purpose of the publication is to diagnose the phenomenon of multitasking among administrative employees of state universities in Poland (on the example of the city of Lodz). Three following hypotheses arise from the adopted main objective: • Hypothesis 1: Multitasking is a tool that modifies the intensity and quality of tasks performed by the employees. • Hypothesis 2: Multitasking is determined by the variety of employee attributes and tasks. • Hypothesis 3: Employees are aware that multitasking changes the efficiency of their tasks. Verification of a specific research hypothesis as well as inference in the context of the set goal determines the use of appropriate research methods and techniques in both qualitative and quantitative research. Empirical material was obtained using the questionnaire tool by the means of the CAWI technique and direct observation and desk research were used for qualitative research. The theoretical part of the article was based on the qualitative method, i.e. a review of the literature on the subject. Initial studies were conducted at the Faculty of Economics and Sociology of the University of Lodz. They are of pilot character and test the tool used. Subsequently, nationwide research is planned to be carried out at all state universities in Poland. Keywords: competences, multitasking, public organization
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