Future self-continuity and saving

Study Proposal #11: Future self-continuity and saving (Ersner-Hershfield et al.) (C) | 20NOV13


This study presented evidence that people who can relate more to their future selves would be more likely to save present pleasure for the benefit of that future self. I would like to explore what effect parenthood has on feelings of similarity to one’s future self. I claim that parents will rate themselves closer on the future self-continuity measure, and that if they complete a rating task while their child is present they will rate themselves higher on the self-continuity scale. If this result correlates in a similar manner to the study, then in both cases these participants will choose to delay rewards. This would occur because participants with children will empathise with their child with a desire to make the child’s life as great as possible. There will be a projection onto the child that will lead the participant to pursue decisions that will be of greatest benefit to the future self. The child would be an object to imagine the eventual position of the current self. This would make sense evolutionarily as a mechanism to ensure advancement of the species.

This hypothesis will also test how much the self-continuity measure may be manipulated based on context. It seems to be clear that there are individual differences in terms of self continuity but the measure used in this paper seems unlikely to be able to consistently correlate to whatever neural structures are at work.


The experiment will follow the same structure as the first study in the Ersner-Hershfield et al. paper. A 3×2 experimental matrix will be used. A random population sample with two groups will be needed, one normal and one group of parents.

The difference will be that in conditions b) and c) there will be children, related or unrelated, in the room where the experiment has taken place. Of most importance will be condition c) where for the parent sample their child will be present while they complete the activity. In condition b) for the control and parent group a child with no relation to the participant will be present in the room (under the guise that it is the experimenters child). This will be to determine if whether exposure to children in general changes reporting of self continuity versus biological relation to the child and how much. Only one parent will be tested. The study will otherwise have the same method as experiment 1.

Experiment structure / predictions a) No children in Room b) Confederate child in Room c) Own child in room
Control (not parents) Same as in study Greater Self Continuity N/A
Parents Greater Self continuity Greater Self Continuity than in (a) Greatest Self Continuity & saving


    If self-continuity is stronger in those people with children then they will show themselves as closer to their future self in a self continuity measure and will save more for the future in this experiment. I expect that this finding would suggest perceptions of self-continuity will be stronger in those who are in the presence of other generations in general.


This has a variety of interesting implications. Most importantly, it would suggest that exposure to children is important to improve mechanisms of delayed gratification and long term thinking. One might ensure that certain areas are more age diverse, for example financial districts or universities, to encourage less risky and more long term focused thinking. It would also suggest that a greater work life balance and family building would be important for a just society. It may also have an important impact on educating people on the dangers of climate change. It might be easier to compel people to make environmentally friendly decisions if they are educated in proximity of their children or with children.

question, agree or disagree

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