Stanford University

Feeling more connected to your future self:
Using immersive virtual reality to increase retirement saving

Ersner-Hershfield, H., Bailenson, J.N., & Carstensen, L.L. (2008). Feeling more connected to your future self: Using immersive virtual reality to increase retirement saving. Poster presented at the Association for Psychological Science Annual Convention, Chicago, IL.

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Abstract

With regard to retirement planning, people fail to save what they need to (Fidelity Brokerage Services, 2005). Economists believe that shortcomings in this domain are related to temporal discounting, or the tendency to value rewards that will occur in the future less than rewards that occur in the present (Frederick, 2003). One of the reasons why such discounting occurs is because people may often have a difficult time vividly imagining future wants and desires. 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.

In the present between-subjects study, we used immersive virtual reality (VR) to help subjects vividly envision themselves in the present (control condition) or in the future (experimental condition). With VR, instead of merely asking someone to imagine that they are an older version of themselves, we provide them with a visual representation of their body and face as it will approximately look in the future. For all participants (N = 50), we used preset algorithms to locate key points on the face and then built a three-dimensional model of each participant’s face (i.e., a digital avatar). For the experimental condition, we created a persuasive visual analog of the 70-year old version of each participant by morphing the shape and texture of his or her digital avatar to simulate the aging process (Bailenson, Beall, & Blacovich, 2002) (See Figure 1).

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