Van Gelder, J.-L., Luciano, E. C., Weulen Kranenbarg, M., & Hershfield, H. E. (2015). Friends with my future self : Longitudinal vividness intervention reduces delinquency. Criminology, 53(2), 158–179. doi:10.1111/1745-9125.12064
In a field experiment, we use a novel method to test whether instilling a greater sense of vividness of the future self motivates people to act in a more future-oriented way and reduces their delinquent involvement. We manipulate vividness of the future self by having participants, a sample of high-school youth (N = 133), "befriend" an avatar representing their future self on a social network website. For 7 days, they reply to short messages from their future self designed to trigger thinking about that distant self. Using repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA), we find that participants who had been linked to their future self report less delinquent involvement, whereas controls did not. Furthermore, the results of a nonparametric bootstrapping procedure show that this effect is mediated by changes in vividness of the future self, such that increases in vividness lead to lower self-reported delinquency. We conclude that vividness of the future self holds promise not only as a cognitive explanation for the failure to make informed cost-benefit trade-offs but also for interventions aiming to reduce delinquency.