Many people fail to save what they need to for retirement (Munnell, Webb, and Golub-Sass 2009). Research on excessive discounting of the future suggests that removing the lure of immediate rewards by pre-committing to decisions, or elaborating the value of future rewards can both make decisions more future-oriented. In this article, we explore a third and complementary route, one that deals not with present and future rewards, but with present and future selves. In line with thinkers who have suggested that people may fail, through a lack of belief or imagination, to identify with their future selves (Parfit 1971; Schelling 1984), we propose that allowing people to interact with age-progressed renderings of themselves will cause them to allocate more resources toward the future. In four studies, participants interacted with realistic computer renderings of their future selves using immersive virtual reality hardware and interactive decision aids. In all cases, those who interacted with virtual future selves exhibited an increased tendency to accept later monetary rewards over immediate ones.
Keywords: Retirement saving; future self-continuity; immersive virtual reality; intertemporal choice; temporal discounting.