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Doing Unto Future Selves As You Would Do Unto Others: Psychological Distance and Decision Making

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Abstract

Four experiments showed that the decisions people make for future selves and other people are similar to each other and different from their decisions for present selves. Experiments involved decisions to drink a disgusting liquid for scientific purposes (Experiment 1), tutor peers during exam week (Experiment 2), receive e-mails for charity (Experiment 3), and defer a lottery prize for a larger one (Experiment 4). These findings seemed to be at least partially rooted in the tendency for decisions regarding the ongoing, present self to be uniquely influenced by internal subjective experience. Specifically, these effects emerged for real, but not hypothetical, decisions. Also, they were mitigated by manipulations that altered participants' attention to present or future subjective experience. In addition, when participants' subjective experience primarily involved empathy for others (Experiment 3), their decisions on behalf of present selves were more generous than their decisions for future selves and others. Applications are discussed.
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Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
DOI: 10.1177/0146167207310023
2008; 34; 224 originally published online Dec 21, 2007; Pers Soc Psychol Bull
Emily Pronin, Christopher Y. Olivola and Kathleen A. Kennedy
Doing Unto Future Selves As You Would Do Unto Others: Psychological Distance and Decision Making
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224
Doing Unto Future Selves As You
Would Do Unto Others: Psychological
Distance and Decision Making
Emily Pronin
Christopher Y. Olivola
Kathleen A. Kennedy
Princeton University
waiter at the beginning of dinner that we will be skipping
dessert, knowing that if we wait until later to decide our
resolve will be lost. These observations of human deci-
sion making have led many theorists to conceptualize
the human mind as composed of multiple selves: The
self that chooses well in advance and the self that faces
the consequences (Ainslie, 1992; Elster, 1984; Schelling,
1984; Thaler & Shefrin, 1981).
Implicit in these theories is the assumption that
future selves are to some extent viewed and treated like
other people. Some philosophers (notably Parfit, 1971)
have even suggested that a person is a succession of
overlapping but different selves and that future selves
therefore should be treated like others. Our own inter-
est lies less in whether future selves should be treated as
other people than in the observation that people do
indeed seem to treat them as such. The reason for this,
we will suggest, has to do with the similar ways in
which people experience events that are socially and
temporally distant. Although researchers have noted
parallels between temporal and social distance (e.g.,
Albert, 1977; Loewenstein, 1996; Trope & Liberman,
2003), research has not tested their assumed relation-
ship by comparing decisions for present selves versus
future selves and others.
Authors’ Note: This research received support from the FINRA
Investor Education Foundation. John Fleming, Jessica Karpay, Jane
McClintock, Nasim Sobhani, and Amy Ricci provided research assis-
tance. Please direct correspondence to Emily Pronin, Department of
Psychology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540; e-mail:
epronin@princeton.edu.
PSPB, Vol. 34 No. 2, February 2008 224-236
DOI: 10.1177/0146167207310023
© 2008 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.
Four experiments showed that the decisions people
make for future selves and other people are similar to
each other and different from their decisions for present
selves. Experiments involved decisions to drink a dis-
gusting liquid for scientific purposes (Experiment 1),
tutor peers during exam week (Experiment 2), receive e-
mails for charity (Experiment 3), and defer a lottery
prize for a larger one (Experiment 4). These findings
seemed to be at least partially rooted in the tendency for
decisions regarding the ongoing, present self to be
uniquely influenced by internal subjective experience.
Specifically, these effects emerged for real, but not hypo-
thetical, decisions. Also, they were mitigated by manip-
ulations that altered participants’ attention to present or
future subjective experience. In addition, when partici-
pants’ subjective experience primarily involved empathy
for others (Experiment 3), their decisions on behalf of
present selves were more generous than their decisions
for future selves and others. Applications are discussed.
Keywords: self–other; decision making; temporal distance;
future self; empathy gap; temporal discounting
O
ften we make decisions for the future that fly in the
face of what we would do today. We might be too
busy today to even make time for a quick phone call to
our dear Aunt Ida but nevertheless plan a week-long
visit to her in 6 months. Not surprisingly, then, we often
find ourselves tempted to renege on our decisions when
the future becomes now. Of course, we sometimes antic-
ipate that this temptation will arise and seek to avert its
impact by limiting the decision-making power of our
future self. Thus, we might purchase a nonrefundable
flight or, to take a different example, we might tell the
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Everyday experience suggests that present and future
selves are not treated the same. Our hypothesis in this
article begins with the notion that decision making for
future selves (e.g., “How much of my first paycheck of
next year should I put into savings?”) elicits decisions
that better resemble decision making for other people
(“How much should my coworker Hal put from his
paycheck into savings?”) than decision making for pre-
sent selves (“How much of this paycheck that I just got
should I put into savings?”), at least in the case when
the relevant decisions are likely to have affective conse-
quences for the actor who will experience them.
PARALLELS BETWEEN TEMPORAL
AND SOCIAL DISTANCE
Separate streams of research involving decision making
over time and decision making for self versus others suggest
similarities between the two. First, research has docu-
mented inconsistencies in people’s choices over time (e.g.,
Loewenstein, Read, & Baumeister, 2003). These studies
typically involve problems of self-control and demonstrate
people’s tendency to choose to experience rewards now and
pain later (Ainslie & Haslam, 1992; Read & Loewenstein,
2000). For example, a person who loves sweets may plan in
advance not to consume any tomorrow but may decide to
indulge (and pay for it by exercising later) when tomorrow
becomes now. Similar to people’s tendency to make deci-
sions that satisfy present selves over future selves is their ten-
dency to make decisions that neglect others relative to the
self. When people are able to allocate a limited amount of
resources among themselves and others, they generally keep
more for themselves and allocate less to others (Camerer,
2003; Diekmann, Samuels, Ross, & Bazerman, 1997).
Outside the realm of decision making, some experi-
ments have directly compared the effects of temporal
and social distance. These studies have shown that per-
ceptions and judgments of future selves sometimes
resemble perceptions and judgments of other people
better than those of present selves. For example, people
picturing future events involving themselves frequently
adopt the visual perspective of an external observer
(Pronin & Ross, 2006). They literally perceive their
future selves as they would perceive another person,
although they do not perceive their present self from that
perspective. A similar pattern occurs for attributions.
People tend to provide dispositional explanations for
their future actions (Nussbaum, Trope, & Liberman,
2003), much as they do for others’ (but not their own)
present actions (e.g., Jones & Nisbett, 1972). Moreover,
whereas people describe present selves as situationally
variable, they describe future selves and others in trait
terms (Pronin & Ross, 2006).
Some theory and evidence suggest that differences in
the way people experience present selves, versus future
selves and others, may account for these asymmetries.
Construal level theory (Trope & Liberman, 2003)
claims that increases in temporal and social distance
are likely to decrease people’s focus on concrete and
immediate concerns and increase their focus on
abstract goals and outcomes (also Vallacher &
Wegner, 1987). One important characteristic of this
abstract focus of attention is that it gives little weight
to concerns about internal subjective experience (e.g.,
Fujita, Trope, Liberman, & Levin-Sagi, 2006). Indeed,
numerous research approaches, to which we now turn,
suggest that people pay less attention to subjective
experience when that experience belongs to psycholog-
ically distant selves, that is, future selves and others,
rather than when it belongs to psychologically immedi-
ate (present) selves.
SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE AND
PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTANCE
William James (1890/1983) described people’s
experience of their own thoughts and feelings as hav-
ing “a warmth and intimacy about them of which
[others’] are completely devoid” (p. 314). A focus on
such internal thoughts and feelings is central to how
people experience their present selves (e.g., Andersen
& Ross, 1984; McGuire & McGuire, 1986; Prentice,
2006; Pronin, Kruger, Savitsky, & Ross, 2001).
However, this centrality does not (and cannot) extend
to how people experience future selves (Pronin &
Ross, 2006). Indeed, people often are wrong when
they try to conceive of their future feelings and subjec-
tive states (e.g., Wilson & Gilbert, 2003). Similarly,
this centrality of introspective information does not
extend to how people experience other people (e.g.,
Andersen & Ross, 1984; Malle & Pearce, 2001).
When people attempt to simulate others’ internal
states they often are sorely in error (e.g., Prentice &
Miller, 1996; Van Boven, Loewenstein, & Dunning,
2005). This self-other asymmetry in attention to sub-
jective experience also has been described as involving
actors’ tendency to take an inside view versus
observers’ tendency to take an outside view (Buehler,
Griffin, & Ross, 1994; Epley & Dunning, 2000;
Kahneman & Tversky, 1979).
In the domain of attribution, experiments have
linked similarities in the treatment of future selves and
others to this difference in underlying psychological
process, that is, involving differences in attention to
internal subjective experience (Pronin & Ross, 2006).
Experiments involving decision making have not
Pronin et al. / PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTANCE AND DECISION MAKING 225
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226 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
directly compared effects of temporal and social distance,
but some research involving temporal distance suggests
that its effects on decision making also are linked to
psychological processes that distinguish the experience
of present selves from others (Loewenstein, 1996; Trope
& Liberman, 2000).
The foregoing analysis of psychological processes,
combined with our review of past research regarding
intertemporal (and interpersonal) inconsistencies in
decision making, leads us to the present research. We
predict that people’s decisions for present selves will dif-
fer from their decisions for future selves and others and
that a source of these differences will involve differences
in attention to subjective experience. This analysis of
underlying process suggests that people often will make
especially selfish decisions for present selves (because
their subjective experiences often will be focused on per-
sonal pain or gain). However, it is worth noting that it
also suggests that in situations where actors’ primary
subjective experience involves prosocial feelings (or
empathy), they will make more generous decisions on
behalf of present selves.
THE PRESENT RESEARCH
The present experiments explore asymmetries in the
decisions that people make for present selves versus for
future selves and others. Participants make decisions
involving drinking a disgusting liquid (Experiment 1), vol-
unteering time in the middle of exam week (Experiment 2),
helping charity at little cost (Experiment 3), and defer-
ring a monetary prize (Experiment 4). These studies aim
to show that the decisions people make for future selves
and others are similar to each other and different from
their decisions for present selves. In seeking evidence for
this hypothesis, we also aim to find evidence supporting
our analysis of underlying sources (i.e., involving differ-
ences in attention to the internal subjective experiences
of present selves versus future selves and others).
Understanding the relationships between decision
making for present selves versus for future selves and
others is likely to be of important practical significance.
It could, for example, suggest ways for people to make
decisions that better fulfill long-term, and more proso-
cial, ends. In some cases, this might involve people
making decisions that will bind the future self rather
than the present self. In addition, if it is the case that
decision making for other people resembles decision
making for future selves, then another option is avail-
able when decisions must be made in the present: We
can have others make them for us. Thus, we might be
wise to decide 6 months in advance how much to allot
to our “Vegas gambling fund” or, once at the casino, to
ask a trusted friend to make that decision for us.
EXPERIMENT 1: DRINKING SOMETHING
DISGUSTING (FOR THE BENEFIT OF SCIENCE)
Participants made what they presumed to be either real
or hypothetical decisions about how much of a disgusting
liquid would be drunk by themselves in the present or
future, or by another participant, for a scientific experi-
ment. When making a real decision, participants were
expected to choose more disgusting liquid for their future
self or another participant than for their present self. When
making a hypothetical decision, participants were not
expected to make different choices across the three condi-
tions. This set of predictions was derived from our analy-
sis of underlying sources involving the unique tendency for
the ongoing self (one that obviously cannot be experienced
hypothetically) to focus its attention on immediate subjec-
tive experience (in this case, the experience of drinking a
disgusting liquid for the sake of science).
Method
Participants
A total of 153 Princeton undergraduates participated
for course credit (in the real decision conditions) or as
volunteers (in the hypothetical decision conditions). They
were assigned to conditions in a 2 × 3 (Real/Hypothetical
× Self-Present/Self-Future/Other) design.
1
Procedure
Real decision conditions. Participants arrived at the
laboratory individually and first participated in an unre-
lated experiment (on group perception). The experimenter
then told them that their next study concerned “effects of
mood on social perception.” She explained that the
researchers were “particularly interested in disgust,” which
would be induced via drinking “an unpleasant-tasting
liquid.” After drinking it, she said, participants would
“make judgments about some fictional characters” so that
the researcher could examine whether “different amounts
of disgust lead to different judgments.”
She then told participants in the two self-conditions
that they would “choose for yourself how much of the
liquid you’ll consume.” She added, “We especially need
subjects in the higher condition levels, which require
drinking more of the liquid.” She assured them that the
drink was “not in any way dangerous” and simply
involved “an unusual combination of everyday foods, in
this case water with ketchup and soy sauce mixed in.”
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In the self-present condition, participants were told
that they would consume the liquid during the experi-
mental session. In the self-future condition, they were
told that because of some bureaucratic issues it would
not be possible “to run the actual study tonight as
planned” and that “the actual experiment (drinking the
liquid and making the judgments)” would be run early
next semester. Participants were notified that their par-
ticipation credit (a course requirement) would be
revoked if they did not return for this 5-min follow-up
session.
2
In the other condition, participants received the same
description of the study and of their decision but were told
that they would be deciding how much would be drunk by
“the next person in this new study.” Because all partic-
ipants had just completed an unrelated experiment, the
experimenter added, “Just to be clear, the experiment
you did is complete and you yourself will not be doing
this study.”
All participants then completed a form asking them
to indicate how much of the liquid they (or a fellow par-
ticipant) would consume (1 tsp, 1 tbsp, 1/4 cup, 1/2
cup, or 1 cup). They then were debriefed. Eight partici-
pants reported suspecting that no one would be asked
to drink the liquid. Because their responses thus did not
involve what they perceived to be a real decision, they
were excluded from analyses.
Hypothetical decision conditions. In these three con-
ditions, participants were told, “Please imagine yourself
in the following situation: You’ve just arrived at a psy-
chology experiment session that you’re participating in
to fulfill a psychology course requirement.” They then
were presented with the script from one of the three
real-decision conditions after being told to imagine,
“The experimenter presents you with the following
description of what you’ll be required to do.” After
being thereby told about their decision, participants
completed the form that was used in the real-decision
conditions for indicating a quantity of disgusting liquid.
They were told to imagine, “The experimenter then
hands you a form (reproduced below) and asks you to
indicate how much [you/this person] will consume.
What do you check?”
Results and Discussion
We predicted an interaction between the presumed
real versus hypothetical nature of participants’ decision
and the target of their decision (present self, future self,
or other). This interaction was significant, F(2, 139) =
3.77, p = .003 (see Figure 1). Thus, we next examined
the effects of decision target separately for the real ver-
sus hypothetical conditions.
Hypothetical Decision Conditions
Based on our theoretical analysis involving the role
of attention to subjective experience, we did not expect
to find differences in participants’ chosen amount of liq-
uid across the three hypothetical conditions. This pre-
diction was supported, F(2, 139) = .27, ns. There were
no differences between any two of the three hypotheti-
cal conditions (Fs < .4).
Real Decision Conditions
We expected that participants who believed they
were making a real decision would choose differing
amounts of unpleasant-tasting liquid depending on
whom they expected would drink that liquid. This pre-
diction was supported, F(2, 139) = 6.91, p = .001. We
predicted that participants would choose to drink more
disgusting liquid in the future than in the present and
that their decisions for the future self would resemble
decisions for another participant. Indeed, participants
chose larger quantities to be drunk by their future self
than their imminent self, F(1, 139) = 6.51, p = .01. They
also chose larger quantities to be imminently drunk by
another person than by themselves, F(1, 139) = 13.31,
p = .0004. As expected, there was no difference between
quantities chosen for future selves versus others, F(1,
139) = 1.09, ns.
Finally, it may be worth noting that some differences
emerged between real versus hypothetical decisions.
Participants chose greater quantities of disgusting liquid
Pronin et al. / PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTANCE AND DECISION MAKING 227
1 tbsp
Real Hypothetical
Present Self
Another Student
Future Self
1/4 cup
1/2 cup
Amount Chosen
Presumed Nature of Decision
Figure 1 Real and hypothetical decisions about how much dis-
gusting liquid will be drunk by oneself in the present,
one’s future self, or another student (Experiment 1).
NOTES: For purposes of data analysis (and visual depiction, above),
responses were coded on a 5-point scale (1 = 1 tsp, 2 = 1 tbsp, 3 = 1/4
cup, 4 = 1/2 cup, 5 = 1 cup). Error bars indicate 1 standard error
above the mean.
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for a real peer than for a hypothetical peer, hypothetical
future self, or hypothetical present self (ps < .05). They
also tended (ps < .06) to choose greater quantities of
disgusting liquid for their real future self than for a
hypothetical peer or hypothetical future self.
3
The results of this experiment support our hypothesis
that when making real decisions, people treat future
selves like others. As expected, no differences emerged for
hypothetical decisions. This result is consistent with our
theoretical proposal that decisions for present selves dif-
fer from decisions for future selves and others because of
the heavy weight people place on internal experience
when making decisions for present selves. People do not
experience the internal states of hypothetical present
selves, thus prompting our prediction of no differences
between hypothetical present selves versus future selves
and others. These results suggest that although hypothet-
icality might be considered a form of psychological dis-
tance, it may operate differently from temporal distance
in its effects on decision making. This study also found
that hypothetical decisions were less extreme (in terms of
selfishness or generosity) than real ones. One reason for
this could involve the fact that participants’ real decisions
were sensitive not only to the taste of the liquid but also
to the needs of science and a nice experimenter (in Study
3, we return to this issue of the decision-making conse-
quences of the positive subjective feeling of helping).
Perhaps hypothetical decision makers did not choose
more bad-tasting liquid than their peers because they
knew their decisions would have no real consequences
and thus gave less weight not only to the negative aspects
of their decision but also the positive ones.
In our next study, we sought further evidence for the
effects of psychological distance on decision making. We
also sought evidence for our proposed mechanism by
including a condition in which participants were encour-
aged to consider the internal states of their future selves.
EXPERIMENT 2: TUTORING PEERS
DURING EXAM WEEK
In the context of an ostensible peer-tutoring program,
students volunteered the time of their present selves,
future selves, or student peers. They were asked to vol-
unteer that time during a particularly stressful and busy
occasion for most college students: the week of midterm
examinations. We expected that given the salience to
participants of their own anxieties and pressures during
midterm examinations, they would provide more gener-
ous offers on behalf of future midterm-time selves (and
others) than present midterm-time selves. We further pre-
dicted that the generosity of such future offers would be
attenuated by a manipulation that focused participants’
attention on feelings and concerns of the sort that
would apply during future midterm exam periods as
well as the present one.
Method
Participants
Fifty-four Princeton freshmen received candy for par-
ticipating. They were assigned to one of four conditions
(self-present, self-future/simple, other, and self-future/
same feelings).
Procedure
Participants received a knock on their door on a
Monday or Tuesday night during the week of midterm
examinations. They were greeted by an experimenter
who introduced herself as a freshman in their dorm and
asked for a minute of their time. She explained, “Now
that it’s midterms week, there are several people in our
class who are having major academic problems and are
in danger of failing.” She said she was “pulling together
a peer tutoring program” to help students “in trouble.”
This introduction led to a request. In the self-present
condition, participants were asked how much time they
could tutor that week:
Now while we are right in the middle of midterms week
we want to pull together a peer tutoring program to
help out these freshmen right away. We’re asking you if
you’d be able to help one of these students this week,
for somewhere between 15 min and 6 hrs. How much
time do you think you can spare to help out this week?
The experimenter carried an official-looking sign-up
sheet with the names of all the freshmen in the dorm
and recorded participants’ offers beside their names (as
a signal of their commitment).
The self-future condition differed only in that partici-
pants were asked how much time they could tutor during
the next midterms period. In the self-future/ same-feelings
condition, participants were reminded that next semester
they would
have about the same amount of work that you do now,
you’re going to feel all the same time pressures, you’ll
still have the same concerns about how to balance
schoolwork, going out, volunteer work, and everything
else. Basically, you are going to be the same person you
are now.
The other condition resembled those above except that
participants were asked to indicate an amount of time that
they thought new (i.e., incoming) freshmen could “spare
to help out” during their midterms. After providing their
228 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
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response, participants were debriefed about our deceptions,
thanked, and offered candy.
Results and Discussion
Our primary hypothesis was that participants would
offer more help when it was their future selves or their
peers rather than their present selves who would have to
fulfill the obligation during midterm exams. An
omnibus F test supported this prediction, F(3, 50) =
8.37, p < .0001. Fewer minutes of help were volun-
teered on behalf of the present self (M = 27) than the
future (no-reminder) self (M = 85), F(1, 50) = 8.45, p =
.005. Fewer minutes also were volunteered on behalf of
the present self than on behalf of fellow students (M =
120), F(1, 50) = 21.44, p < .0001. There was no differ-
ence between offers made for future selves versus fellow
students, F(1, 50) = 2.00, p = .16.
As predicted, the reminder that the future self would
have the same subjective experiences as the present self
decreased future offers (M = 46) to close to the level of
present ones, F < 1. Participants offered less time on
behalf of future selves when the reminder was included
rather than absent, F(1, 50) = 3.56, p = .06. Similarly,
they offered less time on behalf of future selves with this
reminder than on behalf of others, F(1, 50) = 12.62, p <
.0001. There were no other significant differences.
In this experiment, participants’ decisions for future
selves resembled their decisions for other people better
than they resembled their decisions for themselves in the
present. Consistent with our analysis of underlying
sources, we found that the effect of time on decision
making diminished when participants were encouraged
to simulate their future internal states via a reminder that
these future states would resemble their present ones.
Our findings suggest not only that people may sometimes
be more generous when offering the help of a future self
but also that such differences are attenuated when people
are reminded that the types of thoughts and feelings that
would curtail their immediate generosity will no doubt be
present when they are called on to act generously in the
future.
It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that our
analysis of underlying sources suggests that people will
always be more generous with future selves or others as
opposed to present selves. Rather, our analysis suggests
that when the positive subjective experience associated
with helping others is more prominent than the negative
subjective experience of making personal sacrifices,
decisions for present selves should be more generous,
rather than less generous, than decisions for future
selves or others. In such situations, we again would pre-
dict that decisions for future selves will better resemble
decisions for others than for present selves. Our next
experiment tested these predictions. In it, the negative
aspects of participants’ decisions to help were dramati-
cally reduced (to the simple nuisance of receiving some
unwanted e-mail as compared to the large burden of
tutoring others during exam time). We expected that when
the subjective experience likely to be most salient to par-
ticipants thus involved empathy for others in need (rather
than anxiety about pending exams), participants would be
more generous when making decisions on behalf of the
present self (rather than the future self or others).
This next experiment also aimed to address a ques-
tion raised by our first two studies. That is, in
Experiment 1, participants made decisions for present
selves, future selves, or present others, whereas in
Experiment 2, they made a decision for present selves,
future selves, or future others (i.e., next year’s freshmen).
In this next experiment, participants made decisions for
either present or future selves or present or future others,
thus allowing us to explore all possible combinations of
temporal and social distance in a single study.
EXPERIMENT 3: RECEIVING E-MAILS
IN THE NAME OF CHARITY
Participants were asked to choose how many e-mails
they or someone else would receive, either in the present
or future, as a way of helping charity and a needy student
paying off college loans. In this experiment, we expected
that positive feelings associated with helping would dom-
inate participants’ subjective experience of the situation
(rather than negative feelings associated with the burden
of receiving unwanted e-mail). We therefore predicted
that participants would choose to receive more e-mails on
behalf of themselves in the present than on behalf of
future selves or present or future others.
Method
Participants
Fifty-eight Princeton undergraduates received candy
for participating. They were assigned to conditions in a
2 (self vs. other) × 2 (present vs. future) design.
Procedure
Participants were approached on campus by a female
undergraduate. She told them, “To help pay off my
student loans, I’ve been working part-time at a clear-
inghouse which represents a bunch of different chari-
ties.” She explained that her job was to “contact people
through e-mail” about the charities.
In the two self conditions, she then asked partici-
pants if they “would be willing to help out and sign up
Pronin et al. / PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTANCE AND DECISION MAKING 229
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to receive some e-mails.” She told them that they were
under “no obligation” to support any of the charities,
that they would receive e-mails only “one time,” and
that they could decide “how many e-mails to get.” She
then asked them to provide her with their e-mail
address, which she recorded on a form. Next, she reit-
erated that the student would receive a single set of
e-mails and that none of the charities would receive the
student’s contact information (so there was “no need to
worry about spam”). She said that each e-mail, because
of a special receipt function, had to be opened individ-
ually before it could be deleted and that this process
took about 10 min for 40 e-mails.
4
This introduction was identical in the two other con-
ditions, except that participants were asked to make their
decision for a fellow student. They were told that another
student (who had been told that the request involved “no
obligation” and a “one-time” e-mailing, etc.) had agreed
to help and provided an e-mail address but then had to
“run off” before completing the form indicating how
many e-mails to send. The experimenter said that the
student “told me just to decide a number of e-mails for
them” but she explained that she was “not really allowed
to do that, because I get paid per e-mail, so it’s kind of
unfair” and that she was wondering if the participant
could listen to a description of the situation and make
the decision instead. She then provided participants with
the same description of the situation that was provided in the
self conditions (reiterating that the student would receive
a single set of e-mails, that none of the charities would
receive the student’s contact information, that it took
about 10 min to get through 40 e-mails, etc.).
In the present versions of both conditions, participants
were told that they (or the other student) would “receive
the e-mails in the next 10 min” because the experimenter
would send them as soon as the participant picked a
number. In the future versions of both conditions, partic-
ipants were told that they (or the other student) “would
not receive the e-mails until early January, when our next
mailing goes out.” At the time of the study, this was
approximately 6 weeks into the future.
In all conditions, the experimenter then explained
that participants could choose for her to send “any-
where between 5 and 40 e-mails” in multiples of five.
She also made a plea, “Obviously it’s better if you
choose more, not only for the charities who are trying
to raise money, but also for me because I get paid based
on how many e-mails I send out.” Finally, she gave par-
ticipants the form on which she had recorded their
e-mail address (or that of the alleged other student) and
she asked them to fill in a box labeled “number of
e-mails to send.” At the bottom of the form, in bold let-
tering, it said, “Thank you for supporting charitable
organizations! You will be contacted [right away/in
January].” In small print, the form also asked participants
to indicate what the primary influence had been on their
decision. After completing the form, participants were
debriefed about our deceptions, thanked, and offered
candy.
Results and Discussion
We first sought evidence for our expectation that
when making this decision, participants’ feelings of
empathy and prosocial motivation (i.e., for helping both
charity and a needy peer paying off student loans)
would outweigh their feelings of annoyance and pres-
sure (i.e., for having to spend a maximum of 10 min
deleting mass e-mails). Participants’ responses to the
question about the primary factor in their decision were
coded for whether they indicated a prosocial feeling
(e.g., “helping others”), a negative concern (e.g., “con-
venience”), or both. Fifty-one of the 58 participants
provided codable responses. Of those, 78% indicated a
prosocial focus, 14% indicated a negative focus, and
8% listed both. As predicted, empathy and prosocial
motives were the primary influences experienced by
participants in this task. They also were the primary
motive regardless of condition (93% in the self-present
condition listed it, 77% in self-future, 64% in other pre-
sent, and 73% in other-future); chi-square tests showed
no effects of temporal or social distance (or the relevant
interaction), χ
2
(N = 58) < 2.21, ps > .14.
We expected that participants’ decisions about how
many e-mails to receive in the name of charity would
depend on who would be receiving those e-mails. An
omnibus F test supported this prediction, F(3, 54) =
4.45, p = .007 (see Figure 2). Based on our theoretical
account involving the weight given to subjective experi-
ence (in this case, to the positive experience of helping
people in need), we expected that participants would
choose to have more e-mails received by themselves in
the present than by their future self or by present or
future others. We first found main effects of social and
temporal distance, Fs(1, 54) = 6.90 and 4.66, ps < .05,
and no interaction (F = 1.55, ns). The relevant linear
contrast (self-present vs. all other conditions: +3,–1, –1,
–1) also was significant, F(1, 54) = 11.23, p = .001.
Participants chose to have more e-mails sent to them-
selves in the present than in the future, F(1, 54) = 5.79,
p = .02, and they chose to have more e-mails sent to
themselves in the present than to another student in the
present, F(1, 54) = 7.76, p = .007, or another student in
the future, F(1, 54) = 11.45, p = .001. The future self
and the present and future other conditions did not dif-
fer from each other (Fs < 1).
These results support our main hypothesis that people
make different decisions for present selves versus future
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Pronin et al. / PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTANCE AND DECISION MAKING 231
selves and others. We crossed temporal with social distance
and found that with the single exception of decisions for
the present self, participants made similar decisions in
every other case. These results also provide further sup-
port for our proposed underlying mechanism involving
people’s heightened focus on internally salient subjective
experience (in this case, feelings of empathy from helping
charity and a needy experimenter).
These results also help to address a possible alterna-
tive account for the results of Experiments 1 and 2. One
might wonder whether those results simply reflected
participants feeling happier—and thus behaving more
generously—when they learned that the relevant “suf-
fering” (e.g., disgusting liquid ingestion) was not some-
thing they themselves would have to experience right
away. In the present experiment, that knowledge led
participants to make less rather than more generous
decisions, thereby ruling out this account.
In our first three experiments, we found that the deci-
sions people made for themselves in the present differed
predictably from the decisions they made for future selves
and others (in the present or future). Our final experiment
sought to explore this phenomenon in the context of the
human tendency to discount the value of delayed rewards
such as money (e.g., Loewenstein et al., 2003). We sus-
pected that this tendency arose at least partially from
people’s tendency to focus on their immediate subjective
experiences (e.g., their experiences of needing and wanting
money) when making decisions. Thus, consistent with the
results of Experiments 1 to 3, we expected people to be
more likely to decide against delaying financial rewards
when those decisions involved denying themselves in the
present in exchange for a larger future reward rather than
denying their future selves or others for that purpose.
Moreover, consistent with our proposed mechanism, we
predicted that participants would be more likely to decide
to deny the present self when their attention was diverted
from their immediate emotional experience.
EXPERIMENT 4: PREFERRING LESS MONEY
NOW TO MORE MONEY LATER
Participants decided whether to defer a financial pay-
ment for a larger one. They either made this decision
regarding a payment that they could receive now, one
that they could receive in the future, or one that another
student could receive. We expected that participants
would be more likely to decide to defer when their deci-
sion only affected future selves or others, that is, when it
did not affect present selves, because we expected people
to focus more on the subjective needs and concerns of
present selves (vs. future selves or others). Consistent
with our proposed mechanism, we expected this ten-
dency to be lessened for decisions involving the present
self when participants were encouraged to step outside
of their current emotional experience and to make a
decision apart from those emotions.
Method
Participants
The experiment included 140 Princeton undergradu-
ates who participated in exchange for entry into a lottery.
Procedure
Self-present condition. An experimenter approached
students on campus and asked them to complete a sur-
vey in exchange for entry into a lottery with a “1 in 100
chance to win $50.” She informed them that they would
learn whether they had won as soon as they finished
and she explained that the winner could receive either
“a $50 check you can cash now or a $65 check that will
be dated August 1 [2½ months later], which means that
you will not be able to cash it until that date” (suppos-
edly, “new research compensation rates for the univer-
sity [would] go into effect” then). Participants were
asked to indicate their payment choice by checking one
of two options on a form (i.e., “If I win, I choose to
receive a $50 check made out in my name and payable
Target of Decision
Number of E-mails
Self in
Present
Another
Student
Self in
Future
Student in
Future
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
Figure 2 Decisions about how many e-mails will be received in the
name of charity on behalf of oneself in the present or
future or a fellow student in the present or future
(Experiment 3).
NOTE: Error bars indicate 1 standard error above the mean.
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232 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
to me immediately upon completing this study” vs. “If
I win, I choose to receive a $65 check made out in my
name and payable to me as of August 1, 2007”). Then,
they were debriefed.
Self-future condition. This condition resembled the
above in all respects except that participants were told
that the winner could receive either a $50 check that
would be dated 2½ months into the future or a $65
check that would be dated 2½ months after that (the
actual dates were provided). The experimenter
explained that the $50 payment could not be offered
until then because “we unfortunately can’t pay you
until the study is completed” (she explained the increase
to $65 with the same compensation-rate story as in the
self-present condition).
Other-student condition. This condition resembled the
self-present condition except that participants were told
that the experimenter was “about to start asking students”
to complete a survey in exchange for entry into a lottery
with a “1 in 100 chance to win $50.” She explained that
the students would learn whether they had won as soon as
they finished and that the winner could receive either “a
$50 check they can cash now or a $65 check that will be
dated August 1 [2½ months later], which means that they
will not be able to cash it until that date” (based on the
alleged compensation-rate change). She explained,
“Normally, I would let the participant make this decision
themselves, but in this case I need to have it set before I can
start the study. So, I’m asking other Princeton students to
decide.” Participants then were asked to indicate their pay-
ment choice on a form (i.e., “If the participant wins, I
choose for them to receive a $50 check made out in their
name and payable to them immediately upon completing
of this study” vs. “If the participant wins, I choose for
them to receive a $65 check [etc.]”).
Self-present-reduced-salience condition. This condition
resembled the self-present condition except that partici-
pants were told before making their choice,
Think about the decision from the perspective of a person
who does not know you or any of your thoughts or feel-
ings about the decision. Then, from this nonemotional
perspective, of someone who doesn’t know your
thoughts and feelings, make the decision for yourself.
Results and Discussion
As shown in Figure 3, participants’ decisions to delay
financial rewards depended on their experimental condi-
tion, χ
2
(3) = 9.06, p = .03. As expected, participants were
far less likely to decide to delay financial rewards when
those delays involved the present self rather than the
future self or another person (or the present self but with
their attention diverted from ongoing emotions). This
result was significant according to a 2 × 2 (Self-Present vs.
All Other Conditions × $50 vs. $65) chi-square (equiva-
lent to a +3, –1, –1, –1 contrast using logistic regression),
χ
2
(2) = 8.98, p = .003. In the self-present condition, par-
ticipants chose to delay the reward 46% of the time; by
contrast, they chose to delay it 74% of the time in the
self-future condition, 74% of the time in the other-
student condition, and 71% of the time in the self-pre-
sent–reduced-salience condition. Differences between the
self-present condition and each of the other three condi-
tions were significant, χ
2
(1) = 5.92, 5.92, and 4.77,
respectively, ps < .03. There were no differences between
those three conditions, χ
2
< .10.
In this study, participants showed more temporal dis-
counting when they considered deferring a reward that
might go to their present self as opposed to one that
might go to their future self or another person. Indeed,
they treated future selves just as they did others. When
they were encouraged to divert their attention from
ongoing emotions, they also came to treat present selves
similarly to future selves and others. Within the context
of temporal discounting phenomena, these results pro-
vide added support for the hypothesis that people treat
future selves like others. They also provide further sup-
port for our theoretical account that a source of this
effect involves people’s heightened attention to subjec-
tive experience (thoughts and feelings) when consider-
ing the present self rather than temporally or socially
distant selves.
Target of Decision
Decision to Delay Reward
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
80%
90%
Self in
Present
Another
Student
Self in
Future
Present Self
Reduced Salience
of Emotions
Figure 3 Decisions to defer a lottery reward on behalf of the pre-
sent self, the future self, a fellow student, or the present
self with that self’s attention diverted from ongoing emo-
tions (Experiment 4).
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Pronin et al. / PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTANCE AND DECISION MAKING 233
GENERAL DISCUSSION
This article examines the hypothesis that people’s
decisions for future selves differ from their decisions for
present selves and instead more closely resemble deci-
sions for other people. We provide evidence for this
hypothesis in contexts ranging from decisions about
consuming a disgusting liquid for the benefit of science
to decisions about helping others in need. These exper-
iments also explore a source of this phenomenon in
people’s tendency to treat the present self uniquely (in
comparison to future selves or others) because of a
strong attentional focus on that self’s internal thoughts,
feelings, and other subjective experiences.
These experiments involved real decisions. Indeed,
our proposed mechanism suggests, and we found, that
the observed asymmetry is likely to be absent in hypo-
thetical scenarios of the sort often used in decision-
making research. In this regard, it is worth noting that
the real decisions that participants made for future
selves and others likely seemed real to them. When par-
ticipants in Experiment 1 made decisions about how
much unpleasant-tasting liquid to drink in the future,
they likely believed their decisions were genuine
commitments—indeed, they were told that if they did
not return for their future session, they would forfeit
their experimental credit (a course requirement).
Similarly, when participants decided how many e-mails
should be sent to one of their peers (or to their future
self) in Experiment 3, they knew that they could not
change their decision later because they had no way of
contacting the experimenter. Of course, some of our
participants may have been skeptical about the reality of
the decisions they were asked to make, and it is difficult
to know whether such suspicion might have contributed
to our findings. It may be worth noting, though, that
some of our results suggest that such suspicion would
have weakened our results by dampening the seeming
reality of participants’ decisions. In Study 1, we found
that participants displayed no differences in their deci-
sions across conditions when those decisions had no real
consequences (i.e., when they were hypothetical).
The current research involved not only real decisions
but also decisions with obvious costs (e.g., drinking a
disgusting a liquid) or benefits (e.g., receiving a big
check) for the actor who would experience them. These
sorts of experiences are the kind most relevant to our
theorizing because they are the sorts most likely to
engender strong subjective reactions. When such reactions
are less salient, because it is future selves or others who
will experience them, they are less likely to influence
decision making. This framework involving the salience
of subjective experience does not suggest, however, that
people will always make more selfish and less generous
decisions when choosing for present selves rather than
for future selves or others. Rather, it suggests that they
will do so when subjective experiences are primarily
focused on personal reward or suffering (e.g., when
contemplating drinking a murky mix of soy sauce and
ketchup). As was illustrated in Experiment 3, people
may be inclined to make more generous decisions on
behalf of present selves when the subjective experience
most salient to them involves empathy for others
in need.
Although past researchers have theorized a similarity
between temporal and social distance, these two forms of
psychological distance have not been compared directly.
Our experiments manipulate the type of psychological
distance confronting participants while holding the deci-
sion task constant. We also include experimental manip-
ulations aimed at testing a mechanism that could account
for this similarity. Providing evidence that interpersonal
and intertemporal decision making resemble each other,
and involve similar psychological processes, is an impor-
tant step toward understanding the role of psychological
distance in decision making.
Our experiments also demonstrated the breadth of
these effects across different decision scenarios, includ-
ing those where participants made decisions for
real/individuated others versus more generalized/
abstract others (Studies 1, 3 vs. 2, 4) and where they
made decisions in which they served as a proxy for
another participant versus where that was not indicated
(Studies 3, 4 vs. 1, 2). It is worth noting, however, that
the present experiments also leave a number of ques-
tions unanswered. For example, they do not compare
the effects of public decisions with private ones. In our
experiments, participants’ decisions were somewhere in
the middle: Their decisions were known to another
person (i.e., the experimenter) but it was only one
person and someone whom they did not know. These
effects might be weakened in more public situations (if
the pressure to make the right decision in others’ eyes
overrides the effects of immediate emotional experi-
ence). These studies also do not examine decisions made
for close versus distant others (e.g., friends vs.
strangers), and they do not examine the effect of indi-
vidual differences in the tendency to see the future self
as another person (Frederick, 2003). Finally, they do
not resolve the question of whether effects of temporal
and social distance are quantitatively comparable and
additive. We now turn to this final question.
In Experiment 3, we found that when participants
made decisions for a future other (decisions involving
social and temporal distance), their decisions resembled
those of participants who simply considered a present
other or a future self. This suggests that psychological
distances may not combine to produce heightened effects.
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Yet we do not claim that such effects never occur or that
the effects of psychological distance never differ quanti-
tatively (i.e., becoming stronger with more distance).
Everyday observations suggest occasions when we make
decisions for loved ones that we would not make for
distant others and when we make decisions for our-
selves 6 months from now that we would be wary of
making for ourselves 6 days from now. Although
degrees of distance likely matter in at least some cir-
cumstances (e.g., Idson & Mischel, 2001), it is worth
noting that other studies suggest (consistent with
Experiment 3) that once a certain degree of distance is
present, further increments have almost no effect. For
example, Hsee and Weber (1997) found that assump-
tions of risk-related preferences differed for the self ver-
sus a proximal other but that decisions for a proximal
other versus a distal other did not differ. Studies of dis-
counting have shown that the function relating distance to
valuation (or salience, vividness, emotional intensity, etc.)
is close to hyperbolic for temporal distance (e.g., Frederick,
Loewenstein, & O’Donoghue, 2002; Loewenstein &
Elster, 1992) and social distance (Jones & Rachlin, 2006).
This implies that initial increments of distance produce
relatively large effects but that the effects of supplemen-
tary increments are rapidly decreasing.
Relevant Theoretical Frameworks
The present hypotheses about decision making were
derived from theorizing about differences in the focus of
attention when considering the present self versus the
future self and others. Research suggests that people
show a unique tendency to focus on internal subjective
experience when perceiving their ongoing behavior,
traits, and preferences (e.g., Andersen & Ross, 1984;
Buehler et al., 1994; Pronin & Kugler, 2007). A more
recent thread of theorizing has elaborated on one partic-
ular aspect of people’s focus of attention when consider-
ing the present self, that is, a focus on concrete aspects
of the situation (Trope & Liberman, 2003). The present
research does not pit these two approaches against each
other because the two make similar predictions for sim-
ilar reasons in the current context. That is, when making
a decision for the present self that will entail costs or
benefits for that self, one’s attention is likely to focus on
concrete, subjective aspects of what it would feel like to
actually act on the decision in question (such as drinking a
disgusting liquid or sacrificing study time to tutor others).
Thus, a focus on internal subjective experience likely will
entail a focus on concrete concerns.
Our results and theoretical account also are consistent
with the literature on “hot-cold empathy gaps,” which pre-
dicts congruence between present emotional states and pre-
dictions about future ones (Loewenstein, 1996). Our
account assumes that the salience, vividness, and emo-
tional impact of choices decreases with psychological dis-
tance. When choosing for the present self, decision makers
are in a “hot” state because they are considering conse-
quences that are temporally and personally proximal. As a
result, they will tend to assume that the experience of their
present (or impending) selves will be relatively intense and
arousing. This assumption will then make them hesitant to
accept aversive experiences for present selves and eager to
accept positive ones. In contrast, when choosing for future
selves or others, decision makers are not faced with salient
subjective consequences and, as such, are in a relatively
“cold” state. Consequently, they (falsely) assume that
future selves or others also will be in a relatively cold state
when experiencing the outcome of their decision.
Also relevant to the present work is research on the
intensity bias (Buehler & McFarland, 2001), showing
that actual experiences often are less intense than they
are imagined to be. At first, this finding might seem to
contradict our results, insofar as it suggests that pre-
dicted future reactions are more intense than experi-
enced current ones. However, it is important to
recognize that the intensity bias compares predicted
with actual experience. It does not show that predic-
tions of future experience (“How will it feel to drink
this disgusting liquid in 2 months?”) are more affec-
tively intense than predictions of proximal experience
(“How will it feel to drink this disgusting liquid
now?”). Indeed, it is possible that people would imag-
ine proximal experiences to be more affectively intense
than distant ones. Such comparisons are not the subject
of the intensity bias (because they do not involve com-
parisons of actual vs. predicted experience). In our
experiments, by contrast, such comparisons are critical;
participants never actually experience the contemplated
outcome and in all cases they are thus in the position of
having to predict their responses to it. We provide evi-
dence that when the outcome is temporally close rather
than distant, people are more likely to focus on salient
affective features.
Our research also relates to past work on people’s
tendency to project their preferences (Ross, Greene, &
House, 1977) and transient drive states (Van Boven &
Loewenstein, 2003) onto others. For example, hungry
people overestimate others’ hunger. The present research
may initially appear to contrast with this work because
our participants made decisions for others that differed
from those they made for present selves. However, our
experiments did not manipulate transient drive states to
examine whether changes in them would affect decision
making. Moreover, it is worth noting that although
people project their subjective experiences onto others,
their projections often lose something in the translation,
that is, people generally assume that others will experience
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their emotional reactions, but “less so” (McFarland &
Miller, 1990).
Applications
Understanding the ways in which temporal and
social distance affect decision making is valuable. It can
help us to choose when we would rather make decisions
in advance versus in the moment (or when we would
rather have others decide for us). When those choices
are impractical, it can at least help us to understand the
likely impact of our having made a particular decision
in the moment rather than in advance (or for ourselves
rather than someone else). At times, such an under-
standing may have little impact (such as when it only
affects a small gambling spree in Vegas), but at other
times such an understanding can have broad conse-
quences, for example, by influencing macrolevel savings
behavior (e.g., Benartzi & Thaler, 2004). On a long-
term scale, discounting future selves seriously imperils
savings policies such as the U.S. social security system.
Our experiments support the notion that asking people
to decide how much of a future paycheck (rather than a
current one) to put into retirement, or asking them to
have a trusted colleague decide for them, may induce
more savings. Our results further suggest that when
those decisions must be made for the present self, wiser
decisions could be afforded by the simple reminder that
the future self will share many of the same feelings,
needs, and concerns as the present self (see Experiment
2) or even by a simple nudge to step outside oneself and
make the decision from a nonemotional perspective
(Experiment 4).
The effects of temporal and social distance on deci-
sion making suggest potential strategies for addressing
other important problems for society, such as issues
concerning the impact of human activity on our global
environment. We often seem to live “like there is no
tomorrow” in our tendency to pollute and exploit nat-
ural resources. Although it may be difficult to prevent
ourselves today from deciding to fill up the car with
gasoline when the tank is empty and an early-morning
meeting awaits us, we might be willing to commit to an
arrangement compelling us to commute by bicycle next
year (just as we might commit to a proposition engi-
neered to compel residents of another state to decrease
their automobile commuting).
The psychological distance we enjoy when making
decisions for future selves and others frees us from imme-
diate subjective concerns. In many cases, this freedom
seems to lead to healthier, less impulsive, and more
socially desirable decisions. Yet it is also worth noting
that there are likely to be times when we would be better
off not ignoring such subjective concerns. When we agree
in the present to take that 36-hour work trip to London,
Paris, and Geneva next spring, it would behoove us to
consider whether the trip will be as enjoyable to experi-
ence as it will be to dream about, and when we volunteer
our friend to sing karaoke in the employee talent show, it
would behoove us to contemplate the experience of the
poor soul whom we are committing to probable humili-
ation. More generally, when making future commitments
(or ones for other people) that sound good in theory but
that will only cause suffering and regret when they are
experienced, a wise tactic may be to ask ourselves what
we would do if we had to face the consequences of our
decisions right now. In such cases, we would benefit from
recognizing that our future selves (and others) are likely
to experience the world with hearts and minds that do
not differ so much from our present ones.
NOTES
1. Due to subject pool limitations, some of the conditions in this
experiment were run successively rather than concurrently.
2. One might wonder whether participants believed that their
participation credit would be revoked, thereby putting their course
grade in peril, if they did not return for this follow-up. We asked
41 undergraduates (via an anonymous survey distributed by an
undergraduate research assistant at the student campus center) to
imagine a student not attending such a follow-up. We asked
whether they believed “it would be possible for this student’s
grade to be changed if he or she refused to complete the experi-
mental requirement.” Only 10% of participants indicated disbelief
(a number consistent with the 11% whom our experiment
excluded due to suspicion).
3. Because participants’ compensation (course credit vs. volunteer)
was confounded with the hypotheticality of their decision (real vs.
hypothetical), we ran a follow-up study with credit-receiving partici-
pants in the hypothetical conditions (N = 45). The results replicated
our findings with the volunteers. The means across the three new con-
ditions again very closely resembled each other (M
present self
= 3.07,
M
future self
= 3.00, M
other
= 3.07; where 3 = 1/4 cup, see Figure 1) and
also very closely resembled the means from our original sample
(M
present self
= 3.13, M
future self
= 2.92, M
other
= 2.92).
4. To be assured of the plausibility of this claim, we asked
Princeton undergraduates (N = 41) whether they had “ever received
an e-mail that was sent with a receipt function on it that required you
to open the e-mail before you could delete it” and, if they had not,
whether they thought it was “possible for such an e-mail to exist.”
Seventy-five percent of participants reported either having received
such an e-mail or believing that one might exist.
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Revision accepted July 23, 2007
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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.
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In five studies, university students predicted their affective reactions to a wide variety of positive and negative future events. In Studies 1 to 3, participants also reported the affective reactions they experienced when the target event occurred. As hypothesized, they tended to anticipate more intense reactions than they actually experienced. In Studies 3 to 5, a cognitive determinant of this “intensity bias” was examined. It was hypothesized that people anticipate stronger affective reactions when they focus narrowly on an upcoming event in a manner that neglects past experience and less intense reactions when they consider a set of relevant previous experiences. Evidence from thought-listing measures as well as an experimental manipulation of temporal focus supported this hypothesis.
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People, it is hypothesized, show an asymmetry in assessing their own interpersonal and intrapersonal knowledge relative to that of their peers. Six studies suggested that people perceive their knowledge of their peers to surpass their peers’ knowledge of them. Several of the studies explored sources of this perceived asymmetry, especially the conviction that while observable behaviors (e.g., interpersonal revelations or idiosyncratic word completions) are more revealing of others than self, private thoughts and feelings are more revealing of self than others. Study 2 also found that college roommates believe they know themselves better than their peers know themselves. Study 6 showed that group members display a similar bias—they believe their groups know and understand relevant out-groups better than vice versa. The relevance of such illusions of asymmetric insight for interpersonal interaction and our understanding of "naive realism" is discussed.