Learning to care about your future self

So there’s this really interesting study out that suggests the reason people have trouble changing their behavior to aid their future selves is because that person feels like a stranger to them.

“In fact, when we think about ourselves in the future we actually use the same part of our brain that we use when we think about a stranger,” is how Jennifer Ludden put it in a story on NPR last night.

In the study, which focused specifically on financial decisions, people were more willing to increase their 401 (k) contributions after participating in an experiment in which they wore goggles that digitally aged what they saw in the mirror. Seeing themselves as the person they’ll someday become — and answering questions from that future self’s perspective — dramatically increased their ability to care about that person.

If you use digital technology to meet your future self — and there’s a couple of websites that now help you do just that — presumably that would help you start that diet you’ve been talking about, or get to the gym more often, or even quit smoking.

This would make a fantastic interactive booth at a health fair, don’t you think? Here’s a video of a woman having her face digitally altered to age 72 to show the effects of sun and smoking.

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