Would Seeing Your Future Self Inspire You to Save?

The general idea has always been that we don’t save enough when we are young because we just can’t picture ourselves as old. It’s sort of a live now mentality that proponents of saving can’t seem to crack. They show us graphs and slide rulers that illustrate how much wealthier we would be if we started saving in our twenty’s rather than waiting until our thirty’s, but still as a whole we just don’t start saving early enough.

So, now researchers as Stanford University have come up with a magic mirror that is designed to scare you into investing. The concept is that the “mirror” takes your image (a photo) and uses age-progression software to show you what you might look like when you are older. The hope is that by showing a person what they might look like when they are old, it will bring aging to reality and thus close the gap between now and the future. Researchers go on to hypothesize that when subjects are shown their future self they will then be more likely to save for their future.

It’s all based on a what is known as the Proteus effect, behavioral alterations in the real world that are triggered by changes in how our bodies appear to us in a virtual world.  The Proteus effect has been proven in other applications. For example, if you are given and attractive avatar in a simulation game, you’ll be more likely to be social. Playing the game for some time as a confident and social skilled person will then roll over into your regular life.  So they say.

According to the Wall Street Journal article on the experiment:

“In one experiment, young people who saw their elderly avatars reported they would save twice as much as those who didn’t. In another, students averaging 21 years of age viewed avatars of themselves that smiled when they saved more and frowned when they saved less. Those whose avatars were morphed to retirement age said they would save 30% more than those whose avatars weren’t aged.”

So, what do you think? Would seeing your gray-haired self spur you to save?

I can’t say that it would for me. These images still look like they’ve got a lot of life left in them. Plus, I’m always rather creeped out by anything that tries to predict the future.


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