Future-self visualizations and pension communication

That old guy there isn’t me: People have problems identifying with their future selves. Developing visualizations of ‘hoped-for’ and ‘feared-for’ future selves to help activate pension plan participants.

People often cannot identify with their future selves. For that reason, they may not plan ahead and thus save too little. Recently, NYU Professor Hal Hershfield proposed an innovative way to make people more future-oriented: age-processing their pictures so they better visualize themselves at retirement. We adapt this idea in a mass communication context and develop different visualizations of retired people. These visualizations reflect “hoped-for” versus “feared-for” future selves in general as well as in a material and social setting. The advantage of using such visualizations is that they can be used in regular pension communications such as the cover letter of the Uniform Pension Statement (UPO, a Dutch pension information letter required by law) or in general advertisements. We find that visualizations of future selves makes participants more safety-oriented during retirement. The general hoped-for visualization makes participants more willing to consume less today and save more for retirement when compared to a control group.

Visualizations can activate possible future selves. Activation of future selves affects peoples’ risk and time preferences. Apparently, this tool stimulates people to choose more safety for retirement. Using the general hoped-for visualization might be the best choice for pension communication.

Read the full project description.