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Future self-continuity: How conceptions of the future self transform intertemporal choice

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With life expectancy dramatically increasing throughout much of the world, people have to make choices with a longer future in mind than they ever had to before. Yet, many indicators suggest that undersaving for the long term often occurs: in America, for instance, many individuals will not be able to maintain their preretirement standard of living in retirement. Previous research has tried to understand problems with intertemporal choice by focusing on the ways in which people treat present and future rewards. In this paper, the author reviews a burgeoning body of theoretical and empirical work that takes a different viewpoint, one that focuses on how perceptions of the self over time can dramatically affect decision making. Specifically, when the future self shares similarities with the present self, when it is viewed in vivid and realistic terms, and when it is seen in a positive light, people are more willing to make choices today that may benefit them at some point in the years to come.
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Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. ISSN 0077-8923
ANNALS OF THE NEW YORK ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
Issue: Decision Making Over the Life Span
Future self-continuity: how conceptions of the future self
transform intertemporal choice
Hal E. Hershfield
New York University, New York, New York
Address for correspondence: Hal E. Hershfield, New York University, Department of Marketing, 44 W. 4th St., New York, NY
10012. h-ersnerhershfield@kellogg.northwestern.edu
With life expectancy dramatically increasing throughout much of the world, people have to make choices with a
longer future in mind than they ever had to before. Yet, many indicators suggest that undersaving for the long term
often occurs: in America, for instance, many individuals will not be able to maintain their preretirement standard of
living in retirement. Previous research has tried to understand problems with intertemporal choice by focusing on
the ways in which people treat present and future rewards. In this paper, the author reviews a burgeoning body of
theoretical and empirical work that takes a different viewpoint, one that focuses on how perceptions of the self over
time can dramatically affect decision making. Specifically, when the future self shares similarities with the present
self, when it is viewed in vivid and realistic terms, and when it is seen in a positive light, people are more willing to
make choices today that may benefit them at some point in the years to come.
Keywords: future self-continuity; behavioral economics; intertemporal choice; temporal discounting; retirement
saving
Introduction
People are living longer than they ever have before.1
In the Western world, for example, more years have
been added to average life expectancy in the last
century than in all of the previous millennia com-
bined.2In the blink of an eye, sixty-five has quite
literally become the new fifty-five: the typical 65-
year-old living in modern America can now expect
to live as long as the average 55-year-old living in
1935 America once did.3Although the addition of
these extra years can be viewed as an unprecedented
example of human innovation and technological
progress, there is still a downside to this new de-
velopment. For most of human history, planning
for the distant, long-term future was not neces-
sarily essential. When reaching one’s 60th birthday
was relatively uncommon—as it was in the early
1900s1—considering one’s preferences at age 70 or
80 would have been considered an unnecessary exer-
cise (and one that most likely would have taken time
away from making important and more consequen-
tial decisions in the present). But with newly added
years to the life span, plans must now be made with
a longer future in mind. Saving behavior, though,
has not kept pace with increasing life expectancy.
In what follows, I will first briefly review previous
research on the psychological determinants of un-
dersaving, most of which examines the way indi-
viduals evaluate present and future rewards. I will
then overview a burgeoning body of theoretical and
empirical work that takes a different viewpoint, one
that focuses on how perceptions of one’s self over
time can dramatically influence decision making.
Saving behavior and temporal discounting
For Americans in the earlier part of the twentieth
century, the average length of time spent in re-
tirement was approximately two years,4and con-
sequently, one did not need to worry too much
about accumulating a huge nest egg to ensure a
comfortable end-of-life period. In today’s world,
however, people are retiring earlier than they have
in years past, living longer, and saving less. In the
United States, for instance, the average male adult
doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06201.x
30 Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1235 (2011) 30–43 c
2011 New York Academy of Sciences.
Hershfield Future self-continuity and choice
spends approximately 17.1 years in retirement, and
for women it is 20.1 years.5Yet, planning behavior
has not kept pace with these pronounced increases
in life expectancy; humans are not suddenly gain-
ing more foresight as more and more years have
been added on to their lives. The National Retire-
ment Risk Index,6which assesses the percentage of
households who will fall short of meeting their re-
tirement goals, for example, has been steadily in-
creasing over time, and significantly so after the 2008
financial crisis.7Two-thirds of Baby Boomers will
not be able to maintain their preretirement stan-
dard of living in retirement,8and perhaps most
shockingly, more than half of working-age Amer-
icans have accumulated less than $25,000 in sav-
ings.9Although the sheer magnitude of this un-
dersaving may be surprising, the fact that it occurs
may not be so. Indeed, according to research in
psychology and economics, people characteristically
care less about future outcomes than they do about
present ones, a phenomenon known as temporal
discounting.10–12
Theorists have suggested that such discounting
may arise for several reasons,13 not the least of which
is that the needs of the present may simply over-
whelm the needs of the future. A given individual
may want to save for the future but not have the
financial means to do so. The 44 million Americans
who fall below the poverty line,14 for instance, can-
not be expected to contribute to tomorrow’s saving
account when today’s groceries need to be bought.
Yet there are many people who can afford to save but
do not. To take one example, Choi, Laibson, and
Madrian15 surveyed employees across seven large
companies and found that between 20% and 60%
failed to even contribute an amount to their retire-
ment accounts that their employers would match.
By not doing so, these employees are essentially re-
jecting a “free lunch” that causes them to lose ap-
proximately 6% of their income annually.
On a more psychological level, present rewards
may feel more arousing and emotional than fu-
ture rewards do. Mischel and colleagues16–18 have
shown experimentally that children are much bet-
ter able to postpone a desirable reward when they
think about the “cool,” informative properties of
that reward (e.g., a marshmallow’s shape and color)
rather than the “hot,” consummatory aspects of it
(e.g., the marshmallow’s taste). Thinking about the
“hot” aspects of the reward can lead to a frustrating
situation in which the future reward becomes even
more desirable, yet still unavailable.17 Focusing on
a reward’s “cool” properties allows an individual to
alleviate this frustrating situation without actually
consuming the reward.19 Thinking about rewards
in this manner has a similar effect on decision mak-
ing as taking on an abstract level of construal does
(i.e., considering the “big picture” of an event rather
than the details), which according to Trope and col-
leagues20–22 is a key aspect of mitigating temporal
discounting.
People also have a fundamental inability to
project their thoughts and feelings into the distant
future.23–25 One might think, for example, that life
will be happier and brighter if this week’s lottery
ticket is a winner; in a related fashion, assistant pro-
fessors might view a future without tenure as bleak
and depressing. But lottery winners and nonlottery
winners are equally happy, and professors who fail
to receive tenure still go on to lead meaningful, pro-
ductive lives.26 In other words, people overestimate
the degree to which they will feel good about a pos-
itive outcome and bad about a negative outcome.
According to Gilbert et al.,27 individuals make poor
predictions regarding the impact of a future emo-
tional event because they tend to focus too much on
the event in question and by so doing, fail to take
into account the influence that other events and
situations will be exerting on their feelings. Such
errors in affective forecasting can frequently have
deleterious results for decisions made in the present
that have consequences in the future, or intertem-
poral choices. A hypothetical consumer might be
inclined to spend his paycheck on a new electronics
purchase, erroneously thinking that this will bring
him more happiness in the future than, say, putting
that same money into his 401(k) would. Conversely,
losses or deficits may contribute less to unhappiness
than anticipated (e.g., people consistently underes-
timate how happy they would be after a traumatic
accident or injury28 ).
The previous accounts explain planning failures
in the context of rewards that can be consumed now
or at a delay. Recent work, however, suggests another
possibility, one that deals not with present and fu-
ture rewards, but wit h present and future s elves. This
review draws on theory from philosophy, psychol-
ogy, and economics, and surveys empirical work
suggesting that the way the future self is perceived is
a strong predictor of decision making over time.
Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1235 (2011) 30–43 c
2011 New York Academy of Sciences. 31
Future self-continuity and choice Hershfield
Theoretical underpinnings of the future
self-continuity model
Theorists have argued that problems with intertem-
poral decision making occur because of conflicts
between temporally distinct selves.11 For example,
the self has been conceptualized as an organization
of individuals composed of a long-term planner and
a short-sighted doer.29–33 Although the planner-self
may plan to lose weight by this summer’s beach sea-
son, the doer-self may indulge in several Girl Scout
cookies in the office break room. In certain domains,
such as dieting and substance abuse, people are often
sophisticated enough to recognize that tensions will
arise between the wishes of today’s self and the de-
sires of tomorrow’s self.34 It is this recognition that
most likely leads many people to engage in precom-
mitment strategies that attempt to constrain future
behavior.35,36 Ulysses plugged his ears with wax so
that he would not succumb to the fatal songs of the
beautiful Sirens;37 alcoholics have taken Antabuse
to avoid imbibing; and the Save More Tomorrow fi-
nancial planning program allows employees to pre-
commit to increasing their retirement allocations
once they receive a paycheck raise.38
One problem with precommitment strategies is
that it is not always an easy exercise to determine
which self’s interests to satisfy (i.e., the planner-self
who advocates dieting, or the doer-self who sup-
ports indulging).36 Although I may say today that I
want to shed five pounds by June,w hy should the self
who states that desire get privilege over the self who
wants to eat the cookie in two weeks’ time? It is dif-
ficult, according to Schelling,36 “for two selves that
do not simultaneously exist to compare their pains,
joys, and frustrations” (p. 10). Rather than trying
to determine who the authentic self is—that is, the
self whose wishes should be met—one could instead
conceptualize a person as a collection of selves over
time, all of whom have authentic wants and desires.
According to this view, espoused by Parfit39,40 and
Strotz,41 among others, the self is a collection of
distinct identities that overlap with each other over
time. Each one of these overlapping selves may share
a strong degree of psychological connection with the
next one, or they may not. Parfit cites Proust42 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...” (p. 631). We may at one
point in time think that our preferences and actions
are reflective of our true, authentic selves, but as the
years advance and situations change, we may find
that we are suddenly completely different from the
person we once thought we were.
Naturally, there will be less overlap between selves
with a greater degree of temporal distance between
them: with more time, psychological connectedness
of oneself in the present with oneself in the future
grows more tentative. People feel more connected
to their potential self of five years than their po-
tential self of forty years. Consequently, one might
logically identify less with a more temporally dis-
tant future self to the point at which an extremely
distant future self may seem like a different per-
son altogether,39,43–45,athough Pronin et al.45 find
that even a not-so-distant self (i.e., one that is just
afewdays,weeks,ormonthsaway)issometimes
treated like another person. Here, it is not impor-
tant whether in various senses, a person actually
does change over time; rather, what matters is how
much a given individual feels he or she will be the
same person over time. Although trait-level person-
ality characteristics47 and general interests48 remain
relatively consistent over the course of a lifetime,
many other aspects of our selves change over time:
people can alter their names, noses, and reputations
beyond recognition. What matters, for long-term
planning, however, is that one person has but one
identity, and it is with this link that the assets of the
present and future selves are tied together. Individ-
uals 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.
aThis idea is not just germane to British philosophy, as
it has found its way into popular culture as well. The
comedian Jerry Seinfeld, for example, has a humorous
take on distinct current and future selves: “I never get
enough sleep. I stay up late at night because I’m ‘night
guy.‘Nightguy’wantstostayuplate.‘Whataboutgetting
up after five hours of sleep?’ ‘Oh, that’s morning guy’s
problem. That’s not my problem—I’m night guy! I stay
up as late as I want.’ So, you get up in the morning, with
your alarm, and you’re exhausted and groggy...Oh, I hate
that ‘night guy’! Ya see, ‘night guy’ always screws ‘morning
guy’. There’s nothing ‘morning guy’ can do. The onlything
‘morning guy’ can do is try to oversleep often enough so
that ‘day guy’ loses his job and ‘night guy’ has no money
to go out anymore.”46
32 Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1235 (2011) 30–43 c
2011 New York Academy of Sciences.
Hershfield Future self-continuity and choice
Recent research has demonstrated that, in impor-
tant ways, people often treat the future self as if it is
in fact another person. On a general level, individ-
uals make attributions about the future self in the
same manner that they do for others, for example,
by attributing the future self’s behavior to disposi-
tional factors rather than situational ones,44,49 and
to make decisions for the future self using a similar
process that they use to make decisions for other
individuals.45 These findings have important impli-
cations for intertemporal choice. If people tend to
consider the future self as a stranger—that is, if that
distant future self feels on an emotional level like
another person—then they may rationally have no
more reason to save their money for their future
selves than to give that money to a stranger.
It is important to consider that Parfit’s39,40 model
does not posit that the degree to which the future self
is considered a stranger is a stepwise function: the
future self does not necessarily have to be thought
of as either totally connected to the current self or
totally disconnected from it. Rather, just as there can
be degrees of connection between people,50 so too
can there be gradations of connectedness between
today and tomorrow’s self. Critically, then, the de-
gree to which an individual feels disconnected from
his or her future self should correlate with the degree
to which that individual discounts future rewards.
The more continuity a person shares with his future
self—that is, the more that future self feels like a
direct extension of who he is now—the more moti-
vated he will be to act in ways that will benefit him-
self in the future. Conversely, the more the future self
feels like a stranger—that is, the more disconnected
a person is from his future self—the less motivated
he will be to plan for the future. In the domain of
financial decision making, for example, if the future
self is lacking in continuity with the current self,
a given individual may be inclined to spend in the
present rather than save for the future.
The composition of continuity
But what aspects matter when judging connected-
ness to the future self? First, continuity with one’s
future self may be determined by the extent to which
one feels similar to it. Parfit40 explicitly discusses
similarity in terms of one’s likes, beliefs, values, ide-
als, etc. in making judgments about the self in the
future. Indeed, a host of research examining em-
pathy and prosocial behavior has found that people
are more likely to help others whom they perceive as
similar along many of these dimensions (see Eisen-
berg and Miller51 for a review). Recent work, in fact,
has shown that on microfinance websites, people are
more willing to donate when recipients are judged
as being similar to the self.52 Similarly, if the future
self is viewed as being similar to the current self, one
will be more likely to “donate” to that future self by
way of saving money in the present.
Second, Parfit40 observes “when we imagine pains
in the further future, we imagine them less vividly,
or believe confusedly that they will somehow be less
real, or less painful” (p. 161). The reverse also seems
to be true: Tversky and Kahneman53 noted that out-
comes or events that are easier to picture in one’s
mind are more “available” and, hence, seem more
likely to occur. Along these lines, Loewenstein19 the-
orized that a more vivid impression of oneself en-
gaging in some action in the future might intensify
the emotions that are linked to thinking about that
scenario. These intensified emotions might, in turn,
allow an individual to be better informed regarding
the future consequences of a present decision. For
example, pulmonologists tend to smoke less than
other doctors, perhaps because seeing blackened
and withered lungs on a daily basis increases the neg-
ative emotions that are associated with smoking.19 A
victim who is portrayed in vivid terms is more likely
to elicit a sense of connection and sympathy, and
subsequent charity than one who is not.54,55 Sim-
ilarly, if the future self is more vividly imagined—
that is, if it is easier to picture—one should feel a
greater sense of connection to it and consequently
be motivated to save for the future.
Third, previous work has implied that the actual
attitude one holds toward the future self—that is,
whether it is viewed in positive or negative terms—
can be a predictor of long-term decision making.
In the health domain, for example, Levy et al.have
used attitudes toward the elderly as a proxy for atti-
tudes toward the future self, and found that negative
views of the elderly held earlier in life can lead to
worse cardiovascular health later in life (controlling
for one’s own health).56 Moreover, holding positive
views of one’s own aging process is associated with
increased longevity.57 Theoretically, it should be eas-
ier to feel connected to another individual if that
person is viewed in positive terms. Indeed, when
forming a new relationship, people feel a greater
sense of overlap with another person who elicits
Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1235 (2011) 30–43 c
2011 New York Academy of Sciences. 33
Future self-continuity and choice Hershfield
Figure 1. Future self-continuity scale that has been used to assess similarity between current and future selves.59
positive emotions.58 Along these lines, one should
be more likely to perceive continuity with a distant
self who is viewed in positive terms.
In what follows, I will review recent empirical
work that has been conducted that speaks to each of
these three domains of continuity: similarity, vivid-
ness, and positivity.
Similarity to the future self
Measuring the relationship between future
self-similarity and saving
To examine the degree to which people feel similar
(or dissimilar) to their future selves, my colleagues
and I59 developed a novel psychometric task based
on existing measure of self-other similarity.60 In the
task, participants choose a set of overlapping Eu-
ler circles that range from depicting no overlap to
almost complete overlap (see Fig. 1). Participants
picked the set of circles that best represents how
similar they feel to their selves in ten years time. Im-
portantly, in early research, we found that our mea-
sure of future self-similarity had strong test-retest
reliability and correlated with scores on a “me/not
me task” that examined the match between present
and future self-descriptions.
To understand how similarity to the future self is
related to saving behavior, we gave a group of col-
lege undergraduates the future self-similarity task
as well as an ecologically valid measure of tempo-
ral discounting.61 Each trial included one smaller
immediate reward paired with one larger delayed
reward. We had hypothesized that participants who
felt a greater degree of similarity to their future selves
would choose in a way that would benefit those fu-
ture selves, and indeed, this is exactly what we found:
there was a significant positive correlation between
similarity to the future self and the number of
larger later rewards that were chosen in the temporal
discounting questionnaire. We have found this re-
sult using both hypothetical choices and incentive-
compatible ones (i.e., participants were paid in ac-
cordance with their choices on the temporal dis-
counting task).59
To what extent, however, would the relationship
between future self-similarity and saving behavior
be found outside of the laboratory context, among
people making actual financial decisions? To address
this question, we surveyed a diverse group of work-
ing adults who lived in the San Francisco Bay area
and who ranged in age from 18 to 86. In line with our
prediction, we found a significant positive correla-
tion between perceived similarity to the future self
and the number of assets that had been accumulated
over time.59 Not surprisingly, age was also positively
correlated with future self-similarity: as people grow
older, life circumstances most likely become more
stable, and each passing interval of time feels sub-
jectively shorter (i.e., ten years represents a smaller
fraction of time in the life of a 50-year-old than in the
life of a 20-year-old). Nevertheless, the relationship
between future self-similarity and accumulated as-
sets remained robust even when controlling for age,
as well as other factors that have been previously as-
sociated with saving behavior such as education.62
Tomakethisresearchparadigmassimpleaspos-
sible, we deliberately left the concept of similarity
open to interpretation for our research participants.
Recent research by Bartels and Rips,63 however, has
used a more specific conception of similarity, and
found comparable—if not even stronger—results
to ours by asking participants to judge similarity to
their future selves in terms of likes, dislikes, values,
ideals, and interests. Moreover, although Ersner-
Hershfield, Garton et al.59 found a correlational
relationship between future self-similarity and in-
tertemporal choice, recent work has shown that per-
ceptions of similarity to the future self can be subtly
manipulated. Bartels and Urminsky,64 for example,
had participants read a passage describing research
in psychology that demonstrated stability in many
34 Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1235 (2011) 30–43 c
2011 New York Academy of Sciences.
Hershfield Future self-continuity and choice
core aspects of identity over time. In another con-
dition, the passage described research that came to
the opposite conclusion. The researchers found that
participants in the stability condition rated a higher
degree of overlap with their future selves and also
made more patient intertemporal choices. In addi-
tion, Bartels and Urminsky64 demonstrated that fu-
ture self-similarity accounted for unique variance in
decision making, even when controlling for related
constructs such as uncertainty about the future, af-
fective appraisal of future outcomes, and the extent
to which one is biased toward the present.
These previous findings, however, have relied on
self-report to assess similarity to the future self,
and thus the credibility of the results could ben-
efit from complementary research that uses fewer
explicit techniques. To this end, my colleagues and
I drew on previous research in the field of social
neuroscience to more implicitly gauge future self-
similarity.
Neurobiological basis of future self-similarity
There is a growing body of neuroimaging research
that suggests that the human brain differentially
represents thoughts about oneself and thoughts
about another person.65,66 Previous work suggests
that people show decreased activation in cortical
midline structures when considering information
about others versus the self,65,67 and increased ac-
tivation when engaging in self-reflection or intro-
spection.68–70 In an early examination of this topic,
Kelley et al.66 scanned subjects with event-related
functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as
they judged whether trait words applied to them-
selves or another person. The investigators found
that judgments of self-relevance selectively main-
tained activation in the medial prefrontal cortex
(MPFC) at a baseline rate, while judgments of
other-relevance decreased MPFC activation below
baseline.
More broadly, Northoff et al.67 found that
processing other- versus self-relevant information
elicited decreased activation in cortical midline
structures, including the MPFC and rostral ante-
rior cingulate (rACC). These neural differences are
not only a function of thinking about the self ver-
sus another person; they also emerge when think-
ing about the self in the past: D’Argembeau et al.71
found that processing past self-relevant information
versus current self-relevant information decreased
activation in these same cortical midline structures.
Furthermore, the neural differences that normally
arise from comparing self to another are attenuated
to the extent that the target other is perceived as be-
ing similar to the self. Mitchell et al.,72 for example,
found that a ventral region of the MPFC was more
strongly active when participants made judgments
about the mental states of others who were perceived
to be similar to oneself compared to those perceived
to be dissimilar from oneself.
We wanted to leverage these previous findings
to further test the relationship between future self-
similarity and intertemporal choice.73 If people
think of the future self as being dissimilar from
the current self, judgments about the future ver-
sus current self should elicit reduced activation in
cortical midline structures (just as judgments about
another person compared to judgments about the
self elicit a similar pattern of activation). Further,
on an individual level, the greater the difference
between activation elicited by the future self and ac-
tivation elicited by the current self, the more future
rewards should be discounted. The more the future
self is represented neurally as another person, in
other words, the less likely a given individual should
be to save for the future. To test these hypotheses,
we scanned research participants with event-related
fMRI while they made judgments about the appli-
cability of trait adjectives to their current self, their
future self, a current other, or a future other. A week
later,par ticipants returned to the lab to complete the
temporal discounting task we used in the laboratory
studies mentioned above.61
Replicating previous research, we found that there
was greater activation in the MPFC and rACC for
self-judgments compared to other-judgments. Im-
portantly, within this same region of the brain,
thoughts about the current self elicited significantly
greater activation than did thoughts about the future
self. On a general level, then, neural activation asso-
ciated with thinking about the future self showed a
similar pattern to activation associated with think-
ing about another person (see Fig. 2A and B).
As expected, there was individual variability in
these neural differences: for some participants,
thinking about the future self elicited neural activa-
tion patterns that were almost exactly like patterns
that were associated with thinking about another
person; for other participants, thinking about the
future self elicited neural activation patterns that
Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1235 (2011) 30–43 c
2011 New York Academy of Sciences. 35
Future self-continuity and choice Hershfield
Figure 2. Neural activation differences between current self and future self-trials correlate with discounting rates. (A) Greater
activation in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) for current self versus future self trials; threshold P<.005, uncorrected.
(B) Activation time courses for each condition in the right rACC volume of interest; CS, current self; FS, future self; CO, current
other; FO, future other. (C) Scatterplot of individual differences in discount rates (log(k) +10) and individual differences between
peakcurrentselfandfutureselfactivationintherACCvolumeofinterest(r=0.47, P<0.05). Note: For display purposes and ease
of interpretation, a constant of 10 was added to the log(k) values. Figure adapted from Ref. 72.
were more or less in line with patterns associated
with thinking about the current self. In line with
our prediction, participants who showed the biggest
difference between activation elicited by the current
self and activation elicited by the future self also
discounted future rewards most steeply. There was
a positive correlation, in other words, between the
extent to which the future self “looked” like an-
other person on a neural level, and the degree to
which participants chose to consume smaller re-
wards in the present rather than delay larger re-
wards for the future (see Fig. 2C). In general, this
line of work identifies the neural systems support-
ing current self–future self overlap and points to
one neurobiological mechanism that contributes to
far-sighted behavior.
Vividness of the future self
In an early examination of the relationship between
vivid perceptions of the future self and intertempo-
ral choice, Klineberg74 measured the extent to which
adolescents were able to imbue future events in their
lives with a sense of reality by asking them to list a
number of typical life events in chronological order.
The more these participants perceived their futures
to follow a realistic and vivid course, the more likely
they were to delay gratification on a subsequent in-
tertemporal choice task (i.e., they opted to wait to
consume a larger candy bar in a week’s time rather
than eat a smaller candy bar immediately).
Such work, however, did not manipulate the ex-
tent to which the future self was seen as vivid, and
the extent to which such manipulations influence
saving decisions. My colleagues and I75 thus con-
ducted several experiments to examine the associ-
ation between a vivid perception of one’s self in
the future and the propensity to save more for the
long term. We used a combination of software and a
novel technology, immersive virtual reality (VR), to
make the perception of the future self more realis-
tic. Namely, we used preset algorithms from a com-
puter software package [Facegen Modeler76], which
(i) locates key points on a research participant’s face
from a photograph, (ii) builds a three-dimensional
model of that face, and (iii) morphs the shape and
texture of the model to simulate the aging process
to create a persuasive visual analog of a 68-year-old
version of a current college student (see Fig. 3 for
an example of this procedure). To create the aged
avatars—or digital representations of people—the
age-progression algorithm of the FaceGen Modeler
software package was applied with identical settings
to each photo. Because the softwareis specifical lyde-
signed to manipulate facial features and not hair, an
artist next digitally retouched each image to change
the original hair color from the photograph 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 ag-
ing algorithm nor did we change the color of the
hair.
In one study, college undergraduates entered a
VR environment in which they could view images
ofthemselvesinavirtualmirror.
77 A control group
of college undergraduates viewed a digital repre-
sentation of their current selves in a virtual mirror,
while the experimental group of college undergrad-
uates saw an age-progressed version of themselves in
the mirror. While viewing these avatars, all partic-
ipants spent approximately five minutes answering
36 Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1235 (2011) 30–43 c
2011 New York Academy of Sciences.
Hershfield Future self-continuity and choice
Figure 3. Example of age progression procedure. (Left) Photo of the author; (Middle) computerized rendering of the author using
Facegen and Photoshop; and (Right) age-progressed version of the same photo.
questions about themselves that have previously
been shown to enhance identification with a viewed
avatar.78 Upon exiting the VR environment, all
participants were given, among other tasks, a hypo-
thetical monetary allocation task. As hypothesized,
those participants who were exposed to their fu-
ture selves were subsequently more likely to allocate
money toward a hypothetical retirement savings ac-
count than were control participants.
It is possible, however, that participants who were
shown the age-progressed images of themselves were
merely primed with the concept of aging, and this
primepromptedthemtosavemoreforretirement.
79
As such, in a follow-up study, we exposed partici-
pants to either their own aged avatar or another
research participant’s aged avatar, and did so after a
lengthy experimental delay during which time par-
ticipants completed filler tasks (to eliminate the pos-
sibility that results from our first study were simply
due to demand effects). Results indicated that par-
ticipants in the future self condition demonstrated
significantly more patience on a series of intertem-
poral choice tasks than did participants in the future
other condition. These results suggest that relevance
matters: the extent to which the individuals identify
with the aged image is a key component of positively
affecting saving behavior.
Although these findings are encouraging, this ap-
proach to VR is expensive and time-consuming for
participants, and most companies or banks will not
be able to use immersive VR to convince their em-
ployees or customers to adopt a longer-term per-
spective when making decisions about retirement
savings. Moreover, experimental condition partic-
ipants in the studies mentioned above were sim-
ply shown a neutral image of their future selves.
Loewenstein’s19 work suggests that in order to make
a true connection to the future self the future emo-
tional consequences of current decisions must be
made clear. Indeed, previous research has demon-
strated that exposure to virtual cause-and-effect
actions can change actual behavior. For example,
compared to a control group, when participants
were shown a virtual version of themselves gain-
ing weight, they were more likely to go to the gym.80
Accordingly, in two additional studies, my colleague
Dan Goldstein and I used a more accessible format
to address the cause-and-effect nature of retirement
decision making.75
Namely, we used a web-based study design in
which all participants were shown a slider bar that
they could move to make allocations from a hy-
pothetical paycheck to a hypothetical retirement
account. As they moved the slider bar toward fu-
ture consumption, their annual take-home pay de-
creased (indicated in today’s dollars), but their an-
nual retirement income increased (again, indicated
in today’s dollars). In one condition, participants
were shown the monetary amounts as well as an
image of their current self, which changed emo-
tional expression as a function of the allocations
that they chose to make (sadder as more money
was allocated toward future consumption, happier
as more money was allocated toward present con-
sumption). In another condition, participants were
shown the monetary amounts as well as an image
of their future self, which changed emotional ex-
pression as a function of the allocations that they
chosetomake(happierasmoremoneywasallo-
cated toward future consumption, sadder as more
money was allocated toward present consumption).
Again, results indicated that participants who were
exposed to their future selves allocateda sig nificantly
higher percentage of pay toward retirement than
did participants who were exposed to their current
selves.75
It is possible, however, that instead of results of
the previous study being due to exposure to the
Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1235 (2011) 30–43 c
2011 New York Academy of Sciences. 37
Future self-continuity and choice Hershfield
future self, they were due to participants reacting to
the valence the different faces present. Rather than
being motivated to save more by the presence of
the future self, participants could have merely been
moving the retirement slider bar toward whichever
face was smiling at them. To correct for this poten-
tial confound, we conducted an additional experi-
ment that was identical in form, except that instead
of being presented with emotional images of their
current or future selves, participants were exposed
to neutral versions of these selves (i.e., faces that
neither frowned nor smiled). This design also al-
lowed us to explore whether, in this nonimmersive
environment (i.e., the web-based design) an emo-
tional image of the future self was necessary to en-
hance saving behavior; as in the VR studies, could
saving be boosted after exposure to an image of a
future self with a neutral expression? Furthermore,
to test for generalizability, we used working-aged
adults as participants instead of college undergrad-
uates. Once more, participants elected to contribute
a significantly higher percentage of pay toward a re-
tirement account when they were exposed to their
future selves than when they were not.
Positivity of the future self
When taking into account how positive views of the
future self can influence saving behavior, consider
that in an earlier examination of this relationship, we
directly asked research participants how much they
liked and cared for their future selves.59 Neither con-
struct, however, mapped robustly onto intertempo-
ral choice. This may not be surprising given that
most healthy adults have a bias toward seeing them-
selves improving over time.81 Indeed,par ticipants in
the Ersner-Hershfield et al.59 study seemingly held
positive opinions of their future selves: both liking
and caring variables were positively skewed and nei-
ther exhibited substantial variance. Yet, for any given
topic (including positivity of the future self), peo-
ple may quite obviously maintain different attitudes
than the ones they report holding.82 One method of
eliciting more variance on a response item, then, is to
ask people how they feel about others in the domain
of interest. Accordingly, in recent work, Galinsky
and I have attempted to ascertain feelings about the
future self by assessing and manipulating attitudes
about the elderly in general.83 Namely, we examined
one aspect of positivity, the degree to which people
respected (or disrespected) older people.
Our first study examined the relationship be-
tween respect for the elderly and savings at a macroe-
conomic level.83 L¨
ockenhoff et al.84 surveyed par-
ticipants from 26 countries around the world about
their attitudes toward the elderly, and asked par-
ticipants to indicate in general how positively or
negatively their society viewed the elderly. Using the
same years in which the original L¨
ockenhoff sur-
vey was conducted (2006–2007), we mapped these
country level attitudes onto gross national saving
rates (expressed as a percentage of gross domes-
tic product), as reported by the World Bank.85 We
found a positive relationship between attitudes to-
ward the elderly and national saving rates, and im-
portantly, this association remained robust when
controlling for a host of relevant variables (percent
of population over age 65, amount of contact with
the elderly, the GINI index, literacy rates, and land
size).
Using experimental designs, we then assessed the
causal relationship between respect toward the el-
derly and personal saving behavior. Because previ-
ous research has shown that perspective-taking en-
hances respect and positive attitudes toward social
groups,86 we showed participants a photograph of
an individual (who was either an elderly or young
male) and asked them to write a day-in-the-life
narrative of this photographed individual by either
taking his perspective or remaining detached. The
experiment had three conditions: (1) take the per-
spective of an elderly man, (2) take the perspective
of a young man, or (3) take a detached objective
perspective of an elderly man. After the perspective-
taking manipulation, all participants completed the
Kirby and Marakovic61 measure that my colleagues
and I used in earlier work.59 Participants in the
elderly perspective-taking condition chose signifi-
cantly more larger later rewards than did partici-
pants in the other two conditions; the detached per-
spective of the elderly and the perspective-taking
of the young man did not differ significantly from
each other. If these findings were a function of sim-
ply thinking about the elderly, then we would have
observed elevated saving behavior in the elderly de-
tached perspective condition. Similarly, if these re-
sults were merely due to taking any person’s perspec-
tive, we would have observed increased saving in the
young perspective-taking condition. Rather, a boost
in saving behavior only occurred when participants
took the perspective of an elderly individual.
38 Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1235 (2011) 30–43 c
2011 New York Academy of Sciences.
Hershfield Future self-continuity and choice
Our next experiment directly manipulated re-
spect for the elderly and examined its effects on
saving by randomly assigning participants to one of
four conditions: participants wrote about a time that
they showed respect or disrespect toward a peer or
an elderly individual. Participants then completed
the same temporal discounting task from the previ-
ous studies. Again, participants in the elderly respect
condition opted for more larger later rewards than
did participants in any of the other three condi-
tions; the elderly disrespect, peer-respect, and peer-
disrespect conditions did not differ from each other.
Only when participants thought about a time they
respected the elderly did we observe increased saving
behavior relative to all other conditions.
In a follow-up study, we examined saving over
a longer time frame and also used a manipulation
that was considerably more implicit than the previ-
ously described manipulations. Drawing on seman-
tic priming procedures,87 we presented undergrad-
uates with a word search task (tables that contained
words hidden among rows and columns of letters)
that included either words related to respect (e.g.,
“esteemed”), words related to the elderly (e.g., “el-
derly”), or words related to both the elderly and
respect (e.g., “elderly”, “esteemed”). Indeed, previ-
ous work has found that when words related to two
separate concepts are put into the same word puz-
zle, implicit links between the two concepts are cre-
ated.88 In a control condition, participants did not
complete a word-search task. Participants in all four
conditions then answered a version of the Kirby
and Maracovic61 task in which they made choices
between smaller rewards they could obtain imme-
diately (e.g., $2,694 tonight) and larger rewards that
they could obtain at a significant delay (e.g., $93,050
in 39 years). Demonstrating the robust link between
positive perceptions of the elderly and saving behav-
ior, participants primed with words related to the el-
derly and respect opted for significantly more larger
later rewards than did participants in the other three
conditions.
Remaining questions and directions
for future research
The research reviewed above provides initial evi-
dence for the ways in which different conceptions
of the future self can affect intertemporal decision
making. Yet, several questions still remain. Below, I
review a sampling of them that provide possibilities
for future research.
Relationships among similarity, vividness,
and positivity
To start, the relationship among the concepts of
similarity, vividness, and positivity is largely un-
known. In the VR studies, exposure to images of
the future self enhanced feelings of similarity to that
self.75 We do not yet know, though, whether ma-
nipulations that increase future self-similarity also
produce more vivid perceptions of the future self.
Theoretically, in order to judge whether one is sim-
ilar to the future self, that future self may have to
possess some degree of vividness and realism. Alter-
natively, it is possible that judgments of similarity
do not necessarily rely on vividness and are instead
a function of characteristics of the future self that
are less concrete.
With respect to similarity and positivity,we found
a significant correlation, albeit a relatively weak one,
between similarity to the future self and how much
one liked the future self.59 Although liking and gen-
eral positivity are not necessarily the same concept,
it is not difficult to imagine a positive bidirectional,
causal relationship between similarity and positiv-
ity: people often feel similar to (or at least want to feel
similar to) those whom they hold in high regard,89
and they like and respect people with whom they
feel similar.90 Future work could benefit from or-
thogonal manipulations of both of these constructs.
It is less clear, though, whether exercises that en-
hance perceptions of vividness can also lead to more
positive views of the future self and vice versa. The
two might be associated, but the strength of the
connection may depend, in large part, on the effec-
tiveness of the vividness manipulation. A degraded
or extremely unattractive image of the future self
might, not surprisingly, lead to a less positive con-
ception of that self. Figure 4 depicts one possible
model of the relationships among these three com-
ponents of future self-continuity (similarity, vivid-
ness, positivity) and intertemporal decision making.
Future research should certainly test which of these
links exists and which does not.
Changes in future self-continuity with age
My colleagues and I have found that future self-
similarity becomes positively skewed as people grow
older.59 As noted earlier, such a shift is somewhat
Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1235 (2011) 30–43 c
2011 New York Academy of Sciences. 39
Future self-continuity and choice Hershfield
Figure 4. A possible model of future self-continuity. Untested relationships are represented by dashed lines.
expected given that life circumstances become more
stable with age and many major life choices have al-
ready been decided in early adulthood (e.g., who to
marry, what career to pursue, where to live, etc.).
Nonetheless, there are still several important in-
tertemporal choices that arise toward the end of
life that may be impacted by future self-continuity.
Upon entering retirement, for example, one must
decide the optimal way to use the money that has
(hopefully) accumulated in one’s retirement ac-
counts over time.91
Certainly, one factor that influences retirement
spending choices is an individual’s perceived sense
of time left in life.92 However, the way the future self
is perceived may also play a role in these spending
decisions, and in line with the research presented
above, similarity, positivity, and vividness may all
influence decision making during this decumula-
tion phase of life. But whether they affect intertem-
poral decisions in the same way that they do for
younger adults is an area of inquiry that should be
undertaken by future research.
Moreover, it is possible that similarity, vividness,
and positivity may not be the only aspects of fu-
ture self-continuity that matter when one is older.
Namely, to the extent that close loved ones are often
part of the self-concept,93 the image of the future self
at the end of life may not be confined to just the self,
but may also include one’s children and grandchil-
dren. In this way, the future self may continue exist-
ing after one has died in the form of one’s offspring.
The extent that they—that is, the future kin—are
seen as similar, vivid, and positive, could influence
saving and spending by influencing decisions re-
garding intergenerational transfers of wealth. If a
given individual perceives continuity between him-
self and his children, then he may be more motivated
to continue saving for their benefit;94 if, on the other
hand, no continuity is perceived, he may be more
inclined to spend in the present.
Connections to the past self
Promoting self-continuity may help people not only
prepare better for the future, but also come to better
terms with the past. Theoretically, as people move
through the life course and are faced with major
life decisions, more opportunities for potential re-
gret accumulate.95,96 Yet, not everyone is paralyzed
by the negative emotions that are associated with
regret.97
One explanatory factor for these individual dif-
ferences may be the way in which people relate to
their past selves (i.e., the selves that made regrettable
decisions). Just as a stronger sense of continuity to
one’s future self could promote saving behavior, so
could a stronger sense of continuity with one’s past
self promote fewer severe regrets? It is possible that
being able to take the perspective of one’s past self
might lead to better understanding and ultimately
acceptance with past regrettable decisions.
Conclusions
Our differing conceptions of our future selves can
dramatically influence the long-term choices that
we make. Future work will hopefully shed light on
the various ways that similarity, vividness, and pos-
itivity interact so that future self-continuity, and its
downstream effects on decision making, can be best
understood. Nonetheless, the empirical work pre-
sented in this review suggests that when the future
self seems similar to the present self, when it is im-
bued with realism and vividness, and when it is seen
in positive terms, people are more willing to make
sacrifices today that may benefit them at some point
in the years to come.
Acknowledgments
The author is grateful to Jennifer Heil, Garriy
Shteynberg, and two anonymous reviewers for ex-
tremely helpful comments on earlier versions of this
article.
40 Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1235 (2011) 30–43 c
2011 New York Academy of Sciences.
Hershfield Future self-continuity and choice
Conflicts of interest
The author declares no conflicts of interest.
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... One class of perspectives on intertemporal decision making (i.e., decisions involving tradeoffs between costs and benefits occurring at different timepoints; Frederick et al., 2002) attributes differences in short-sighted versus future-oriented decision making to the discrepancy between the needs and wants of the present self versus those of the future self (Hershfield, 2011(Hershfield, , 2018. Short-sighted decisions and behaviors, according to these perspectives, result from a lack of psychological connection with the self in the future. ...
... relevant for other populations as well. Given that the extent to which people have a clear and vivid image of their future is related to a wide array of domains such as health, delinquency, and saving (Hershfield, 2011;Rutchick, 2018;Van Gelder et al., 2015, 2022, an intervention that can strengthen people's future self-identification has the potential to indirectly stimulate positive outcomes within these domains. This potentially broad impact underscores the relevance of our smartphonebased intervention and the importance of its optimization. ...
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... Находките на невроналната активация при доброволци, които участват в изследване с фЯМР при поставена психологическа парадигма (задача) да мислят за себе си "сега" и в "бъдеще" показва различна невронална активност. Находките от извършеното изследване показват, че мисленето за себе си в бъдеще е концептуално сходно с активацията на мозъчни структури както при мисленето за други, различни от нас индивиди (Hershfield, 2011). Следователно на нас ни е много по-трудно да жертваме нещо днес с цел да получим изгода в бъдеще -защото по-скоро усещаме себе си в бъдещето като друг човек, а не като себе -днес и сега. ...
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The last decade has seen numerous policy reforms to emplace person-centered social care. Consequently, the public has been given more information, choice, and autonomy to decide how best they want to be cared for later in life. Despite this, adults generally fail to plan or prepare effectively for their future care needs. Understanding the behavioral antecedents of person-centered decisionmaking is thus critical for addressing key gaps in the provision of quality social care. To this end, we conducted a literature review of the psychological and health sciences with the aim of identifying the aspects that influence person-centered decision-making in social care. Using an established theoretical framework, we distilled nine behavioral factors—knowledge, competency, health, goal clarity, time discounting, familiarity, cognitive biases, cognitive overload, and emotion—associated with “Capability,” “Opportunity,” “Motivation,” and “Behavior” that explained person-centered decision-making in social care. These factors exist to different degrees and change as a person ages, gradually impacting their ability to obtain the care they want. We discuss the role of carers and the promise of shared decision-making and conclude by advocating a shift from personal autonomy to one that is shared with carers in the delivery of quality social care.
... Rather than focus on self-gaps, self-continuity approaches predict that possible selves affect future-focused behavior if they are assimilated into, feel continuous with, or are a part of the current me (e.g., Bartels & Rips, 2010;Hershfield, 2011). People experience continuity when their future me seems proximal or even imminent, vivid and clear, overlapping or connecting with their current me. ...
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We comprehensively reviewed and organized the literature examining the relationship between future selves and current action. We distinguish studies focused on possible selves, self-gap, and self-continuity, which focus on different aspects of the future self, make distinct predictions and provide conflicting results. We use the dynamic construction, action-readiness, and procedural-readiness components of identity-based motivation (IBM) theory to make sense of these findings. In doing so, we shift focus from what future me is—positive or negative, close or distant, continuous or discontinuous with current me—to what future me does. We make three predictions regarding when people maintain present-focused action and when they switch to future-focused action. People maintain present-focused action if (1) future me is not on the mind or feels irrelevant to current choices or (2) they understand difficulties taking future-focused action as low value or low odds of success. (3) In contrast, they shift to future-focused action if future me feels relevant to current choices and difficulties taking future-focused action seem to imply the value of doing so.
... Rather than focus on self-gaps, self-continuity approaches predict that possible selves affect future-focused behavior if they are assimilated into, feel continuous with, or are a part of the current me (e.g., Bartels & Rips, 2010;Hershfield, 2011). People experience continuity when their future me seems proximal or even imminent, vivid and clear, overlapping or connecting with their current me. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
We comprehensively reviewed and organized the literature examining the relationship between future selves and current action. We distinguish studies focused on possible selves, self-gap, and self-continuity, which focus on different aspects of the future self, make distinct predictions and provide conflicting results. We use the dynamic construction, action-readiness, and procedural-readiness components of identity-based motivation (IBM) theory to make sense of these findings. In doing so, we shift focus from what future me is—positive or negative, close or distant, continuous or discontinuous with current me—to what future me does. We make three predictions regarding when people maintain present-focused action and when they switch to future-focused action. People maintain present-focused action if (1) future me is not on the mind or feels irrelevant to current choices or (2) they understand difficulties taking future-focused action as low value or low odds of success. (3) In contrast, they shift to future-focused action if future me feels relevant to current choices and difficulties taking future-focused action seem to imply the value of doing so.
... A paucity of research has focused exclusively or explicitly on the temporal perception of discrete events in the future and those that do often look at the perceived temporal distance between "now" and target events (Caruso et al., 2013;Christian et al., 2012;Liberman et al., 2007;Zauberman et al., 2009). Such investigations have demonstrated that the perceived temporal distance to, and sense of personal connection with, future events have significant consequences for judgments and behaviors related to motivation and self-control (Hershfield, 2011;Kim & Kim, 2017;Macrae et al., 2014;Peetz et al., 2009;Rutchick et al., 2018). Research has also demonstrated systematic biases associated with the construal of future events, such as overestimating the duration of their emotional impact (van Dijk et al., 2008;Wilson & Gilbert, 2013;Wilson et al., 2000, but also see Levine et al., 2012) and underestimating their required completion time (Buechler et al., 1994). ...
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Time is fundamentally abstract, making it difficult to conceptualize and vulnerable to mental distortions. Nine preregistered experiments identify temporal illusions that characterize prospective time judgments and corresponding consequences for decision making in a variety of domains. Using visual illusions as a grounding metaphor, studies 1–4 demonstrated that the temporal distance between two dates was perceived as closer together as those two dates were imagined further into the future (e.g., Vanishing Point); the length of a single day whether negative (e.g., a 12 h illness—Study 2a) or positive (e.g., 12 h with a good friend—Study 2b) was estimated to feel longer when embedded within a short versus long trip (e.g., the Delbouef Illusion); a 60 min activity was expected to go by more quickly when adjacent activities were 90 (vs. 30) min (e.g., Ebbinghaus Illusion); and a 9+1 day vacation was expected to be considerably lengthier than an 11–1 day vacation (e.g., Representational Momentum). Four additional studies explored moderating factors (Studies 5 and 6) and the impact of distortions on downstream non-time judgments including the forecasted emotional intensity of a negative event (Study 6), estimations of fair monetary compensation for lost time (Study 7), and willingness to make prosocial time commitments (Study 8). Implications for uncovering additional temporal illusions as well as practical applications for leveraging the relativity of prospective time to achieve desired cognitive and behavioral outcomes are discussed. Keywords: Prospective time judgments, Temporal illusions, Time perception, Judgment and decision making
... In that sense, our ability to remember past experiences and to imagine and plan future ones is essential in our daily lives. Perceived temporal continuity, defined by Holman andSilver (1998: 1146) as "the overall span of cognitive involvement across the past, present, and future life domains," is closely related to a person's sense of self-identity (Abram et al. 2014) and perceived self-continuity (Hershfield 2011). The inability to keep up the ongoing connections between the past, present and future is associated with various severe mental disorders or diseases like autism spectrum disorder (Lind and Williams 2012), schizophrenia, depression (Fuchs 2013), dementia, temporal disorientation, Alzheimer's disease (Blattner 2020;Ryan et al. 2015) and even such pathologies as states of mania (Levine 2006;Martin et al. 2018). ...
Chapter
This chapter is grounded in the ontology of temporality. The focus of the chapter is endogenous temporality and subjective temporality as the lived experience of time. I start with a discussion of the lived experience of time, the ongoing nature of temporality, and possible struggles in restoring and maintaining coherent connections to the past and present in the face of unexpected disruptions in the sensed flow of time. While highlighting the importance of the subjective temporality of our lived experience, I aim to avoid being restricted by the ideas of temporal idealism. Therefore, the chapter includes a brief section on temporal idealism before introducing endogenous temporality as a broader concept applicable beside humans to the world, things, events, and relations. I discuss the agency of time and its connection to becoming. Concerning becoming, a distinction is drawn between the realisation of possibilities and the actualisation of potentialities. The realisation of possibilities is viewed as maintaining our trajectory of movement or form of being, while the actualisation potentialities indicates a qualitative transformation. Both temporality and becoming require a closer look at the present, and pasts and futures, including the notion of the immanence of time. The chapter ends with the temporal structure of agency. Keywords: Lived experience of time, endogenous and subjective temporality, becoming, agency of time, immanence of time, temporal structure of agency
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Book
How do people decide whether to sacrifice now for a future reward or to enjoy themselves in the present? Do the future gains of putting money in a pension fund outweigh going to Hawaii for New Year's Eve? Why does a person's self-discipline one day often give way to impulsive behavior the next? Time and Decision takes up these questions with a comprehensive collection of new research on intertemporal choice, examining how people face the problem of deciding over time. Economists approach intertemporal choice by means of a model in which people discount the value of future events at a constant rate. A vacation two years from now is worth less to most people than a vacation next week. Psychologists, on the other hand, have focused on the cognitive and emotional underpinnings of intertemporal choice. Time and Decision draws from both disciplinary approaches to provide a comprehensive picture of the various layers of choice involved. Shane Frederick, George Loewenstein, and Ted O'Donoghue introduce the volume with an overview of the research on time discounting and focus on how people actually discount the future compared to the standard economic model. Alex Kacelnik discusses the crucial role that the ability to delay gratification must have played in evolution. Walter Mischel and colleagues review classic research showing that four year olds who are able to delay gratification subsequently grow up to perform better in college than their counterparts who chose instant gratification. The book also delves into the neurobiology of patience, examining the brain structures involved in the ability to withstand an impulse. Turning to the issue of self-control, Klaus Wertenbroch examines the relationship between consumption and available resources, showing, for example, how a high credit limit can lead people to overspend. Ted O'Donoghue and Matthew Rabin show how people's awareness of their self-control problems affects their decision-making. The final section of the book examines intertemporal choice with regard to health, drug addiction, dieting, marketing, savings, and public policy. All of us make important decisions every day-many of which profoundly affect the quality of our lives. Time and Decision provides a fascinating look at the complex factors involved in how and why we make our choices, so many of them short-sighted, and helps us understand more precisely this crucial human frailty.
Article
What was noted by E. J. Langer (1978) remains true today; that much of contemporary psychological research is based on the assumption that people are consciously and systematically processing incoming information in order to construe and interpret their world and to plan and engage in courses of action. As did E. J. Langer, the authors question this assumption. First, they review evidence that the ability to exercise such conscious, intentional control is actually quite limited, so that most of moment-to-moment psychological life must occur through nonconscious means if it is to occur at all. The authors then describe the different possible mechanisms that produce automatic, environmental control over these various phenomena and review evidence establishing both the existence of these mechanisms as well as their consequences for judgments, emotions, and behavior. Three major forms of automatic self-regulation are identified: an automatic effect of perception on action, automatic goal pursuit, and a continual automatic evaluation of one's experience. From the accumulating evidence, the authors conclude that these various nonconscious mental systems perform the lion's share of the self-regulatory burden, beneficently keeping the individual grounded in his or her current environment.
Chapter
This chapter provides an overview of research on choice preferences for delayed, larger versus immediate, smaller gratifications. In spite of the widespread recognition of the important role of delay of gratification in human affairs, previous experimental research on the topic has been limited. At the empirical level, extensive experimental work has been done on delay of reward in animals. Surprisingly, although voluntary delay behavior has been assumed to be a critical component of such concepts as “ego strength,” “impulse control,” and “internalization,” prior to the present research program relatively little systematic attention had been devoted to it in empirical work on human social behavior. The chapter presents, in greater detail, selected studies that focus on the role of cognitive processes during self-imposed delay. Many theorists have paid tribute abstractly to the importance of cognition for the phenomena of personality in general and for self-regulatory processes in particular. These tributes have been accompanied by some correlational research that explores, for example, the links between intelligence, self-control, cognitive styles, and other dispositional. The chapter offers a further theoretical analysis of the determinants of delay behavior.
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The capacity to reflect on one’s sense of self is an important component of self‐awareness. In this paper, we investigate some of the neurocognitive processes underlying reflection on the self using functional MRI. Eleven healthy volunteers were scanned with echoplanar imaging using the blood oxygen level‐dependent contrast method. The task consisted of aurally delivered statements requiring a yes–no decision. In the experimental condition, participants responded to a variety of statements requiring knowledge of and reflection on their own abilities, traits and attitudes (e.g. ‘I forget important things’, ‘I’m a good friend’, ‘I have a quick temper’). In the control condition, participants responded to statements requiring a basic level of semantic knowledge (e.g. ‘Ten seconds is more than a minute’, ‘You need water to live’). The latter condition was intended to control for auditory comprehension, attentional demands, decision‐making, the motoric response, and any common retrieval processes. Individual analyses revealed consistent anterior medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate activation for all participants. The overall activity for the group, using a random‐effects model, occurred in anterior medial prefrontal cortex ( t = 13.0, corrected P = 0.05; x , y , z , 0, 54, 8, respectively) and the posterior cingulate ( t = 14.7, P = 0.02; x , y , z , –2, –62, 32, respectively; 967 voxel extent). These data are consistent with lesion studies of impaired awareness, and suggest that the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortex are part of a neural system subserving self‐reflective thought.