Doing unto future selves as you would do unto others: psychological distance and decision making

Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2008 Feb;34(2):224-36. doi: 10.1177/0146167207310023. Epub 2007 Dec 21.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making*
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Helping Behavior
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • New Jersey
  • Self Concept
  • Universities