psychologists

Psychologist studies the emotional disconnect between our present and future selves

A UCLA social psychologist has found that we think of future selves as different people, which could explain why many of us don’t save enough for retirement. So Merrill Lynch, for one, has launched a web feature which “ages” your photo as you ponder how much to save. Credit: iStock

A UCLA social psychologist has found that we think of future selves as different people, which could explain why many of us don’t save enough for retirement. So Merrill Lynch, for one, has launched a web feature which “ages” your photo as you ponder how much to save. Credit: iStock

While we routinely make sacrifices for the people we feel closest to—our spouses, children and parents—and will even give money or our time to help complete strangers like the homeless, the one person whose plight we may actually ignore is our future self.

“When people think of themselves in the , it feels to them like they are seeing a different person entirely … like a stranger on the street,” said Hal Hershfield, a social psychologist at UCLA Anderson who is exploring how human behavior can be modified by bringing people closer to their future selves.

He’s found that the emotional disconnect we have with the person we will become in 20 to 40 years could explain, for example, why many people don’t save enough for retirement; why they continue to indulge in unhealthy behaviors, accepting the risk of incurring terrible diseases in the future; and why they make bad ethical decisions despite knowing that they might suffer consequences down the road.

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