Sims, T., Bailenson, J., & Carstensen, L.L. (2015). Connecting to Your Future Self: Enhancing Financial Planning among Diverse Communities Using Virtual Technology. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, Orlando, FL.
Lower income, young adults are especially unprepared to enjoy financial security in old age (i.e., they tend to demonstrate low levels of financial literacy and long-term savings). Previous research finds that young adults interacting with an age-progressed avatar of themselves reported feeling more connected to their future selves than those interacting with an age-matched avatar. Moreover, these participants intended to allocate a greater proportion of their current income to a retirement fund (Hershfield, et al., 2011). This research, however, was limited to hypothetical behavior in a relatively affluent area. We sought to replicate and extend this work among economically diverse community college students learning about financial literacy. Ninety-seven participants were recruited from a “transitioning to college”course that taught financial literacy. Participants were randomly assigned to view either an age-progressed avatar or a current-aged avatar. Participants viewing the age-progressed avatar allocated significantly more money to long-term savings in hypothetical scenarios (e.g., allocated a higher percentage of their income to a savings account) than those viewing current-aged avatars. A subset of participants viewed their avatar several times throughout the course by progressively building a web profile for their avatar. Among this subset, participants viewing the age-progressed avatar multiple times scored higher on a financial literacy quiz at the end of the course compared to those viewing the current-aged avatar. Taken together, these findings demonstrate promising potential for practical and scalable integration of age-progression technology among diverse populations to enhance planning for a financially secure future into old age.