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Posted on 08/05/2010 @ 12:32 PM

Mindy Hernandez, Founder, One Decision

We all know that Americans save less for retirement than we should and than we say we want to. For many, this has catastrophic consequences. But why do we fail to save for own future?

Researchers Ersner-Hershfield, Bailenson, and Carstensen wondered if part of the problem – beyond the self-control problems that behavioral researchers have already hypothesized - is that we just can’t “see” ourselves as older and retirement-ready so we have a difficult time imagining what we will want and need.

As the authors say, “To the extent that people can more vividly imagine how badly they will feel in the future with little to no retirement savings, they should be motivated to save more money now.”

So what if you could see your future self before allocating your retirement savings?

Using immersive virtual reality, the researchers created a remarkably similar but much older avatar of the subject, similar to the photo above (which is of one of the study’s authors) to help subjects vividly envision themselves in the future. All participants then entered a virtual reality system and saw their current self or future self in a virtual mirror. After leaving the virtual reality environment, all participants completed, among other surveys, a retirement savings questionnaire.

The researchers compared the savings allocation of those who had seen their future selves with those who had seen their current selves in the mirror.

The Results?

Those who had seen their future selves allocated significantly more money toward retirement.


This is fascinating theoretical work. However, since most companies and organizations don’t have sophisticated virtual imagining software handy, the next step is thinking about some more realistic and cost effective applications.

It’s also interesting to think about broader application- is this effect only in relation to adults seeing themselves as much older? What about teenagers seeing themselves as older adults who need to save for a home or adolescents seeing themselves as young adults who need to pay for college? How might seeing a future self in those contexts change present day behaviors?

Read more here


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