Van Gelder, J.-L., Hershfield, H. E., & Nordgren, L. F. (2013). Vividness of the Future Self Predicts Delinquency. Psychological science, 24(6), 974–980. doi:10.1177/0956797612465197
The tendency to live in the here and now, and the failure to think through the delayed consequences of behavior, is one of the strongest individual-level correlates of delinquency. We tested the hypothesis that this correlation results from a limited ability to imagine one's self in the future, which leads to opting for immediate gratification. Strengthening the vividness of the future self should therefore reduce involvement in delinquency. We tested and found support for this hypothesis in two studies. In Study 1, compared with participants in a control condition, those who wrote a letter to their future self were less inclined to make delinquent choices. In Study 2, participants who interacted with a realistic digital version of their future, age-progressed self in a virtual environment were less likely than control participants to cheat on a subsequent task.