Tag Archives: Psychological Science

Saving For Retirement — As Simple As Counting in Days

A few years ago, I wrote a post about the problems with saying “I’ll be ready in 5 minutes.” It turns out, there’s now research that — in a way — supports the point I was trying to make.

In this study, the researchers attempted to draw closer the connection between our present selves and our future selves. In particular, they looked at how manipulating the unit used to convey time (days, months, and years) can have an effect on that connection between our present selves and future selves. In plain language, consider the time between now and when you retire. It may be, what, 30, 20, 15, or 10 years away? For those of you closer to 25 years from retirement, that might sound like a long ways away (actually, it’s really not). Have you started saving for retirement? Oh, right, retirement savings, yeah, I’ll start next year.

That attitude right there, the attitude that our “future selves” are far away (when in actuality, they’re not), that’s what the researchers were targeting. From the researchers [Emphasis Added]:

We found that people say they will start saving four times sooner if told how many days rather than how many years they have until their child goes to college or until they want to retire. […] Considering one’s retirement or one’s child’s college education in days rather than years leads people to experience more connection between their present and future selves, which makes the identities linked to these future selves (e.g., “retiree”) feel more congruent with their current self. This reduces the extent that people discount future over current rewards. Less discounting means that saving for the future may feel less painful.

So, when we think about future events in a unit that is more relevant to us (days vs. years), we’re more likely to feel a connection to those future events and by extension, our future selves.

~

Let’s circle back to my post from a few years ago about 300 seconds:

As a way around this — sometimes — I like to use the term “300 seconds.” Why 300 seconds? Well, 300 seconds is the same amount of time as 5 minutes. (Weird, eh?) But it sounds different, doesn’t it? Similarly, if I’m going to need more than 5 minutes, say 10 minutes, I might say 600 seconds.

To piggyback this research, I’d be interested to see results of a study that looked at our perception of time in an even smaller unit of measurement. For things like retirement and college savings, years to days makes sense, but what about for something that’s going to be happening in less than 5 years or something that will be happening in a few months?

Let’s say we’re hosting a conference in 3 months and we need to get things in order for it. Three months isn’t that far away, but thinking about it in months might not give us the necessary urgency. What if we thought about it in weeks? Twelve. Days? 90. Hours? 2160. Minutes? 129,600.

Ok, so minutes is probably too finite a measurement for this analogy, but I think you get the point. Changing the unit of measurement certainly has an effect on our perspective of future events.

ResearchBlogging.orgLewis, N., & Oyserman, D. (2015). When Does the Future Begin? Time Metrics Matter, Connecting Present and Future Selves Psychological Science, 26 (6), 816-825 DOI: 10.1177/0956797615572231

Meditation Mitigates Effects of Cognitive Biases

There have been thousands of scholarly articles written about the myriad benefits of meditation, but the one I came across recently was one of the first that confirmed one of my previously held beliefs: meditation helps you make better decisions.

The thing that struck me most about this study were the similarities to an experiment I conducted (on intuition and decision-making) as a research assistant. I had a condition where students would meditate for a short time and then use their intuition to make decisions. The results weren’t as I, (the research assistant I was working nor the professor), had hoped. I wrote it off as the the reluctance of undergraduates to meditate, but in this study, in particular, studies 2a and 2b, the researchers used undergraduates (approximately 200 combined) and they meditated!

In the second study, the researchers had the undergraduates listen to a 15-minute audio track, which was was specifically designed for this study. In one condition, students listened to a mindfulness meditation created by a professional mindfulness-meditation instructor and in the other, the students listened to a track, again, by a professional mindfulness-meditation instructor, that continuously instructed students to think about whatever came to mind. This second condition was called the “mind-wandering” condition and previous research used a similar method as a control for mindfulness experiments.

As I already mentioned in the opening paragraph, the researchers found that increasing mindfulness (i.e. meditation) reduced the effects of cognitive biases (i.e. the sunk cost fallacy). My favourite part of this study [Emphasis added]:

It is particularly notable in this set of studies that increased resistance to the sunk-cost bias occurred after only a brief recorded mindfulness-meditation induction. Many prior mindfulness-meditation interventions have involved 8 weeks of face-to-face training (Brown & Ryan, 2003); by comparison, our 15-min recorded manipulation is substantially more practical.

Many people have gotten it into their heads that the positive effects of meditation takes weeks to manifest. Here is tangible proof that — today — meditation can help you make better decisions. Also:

We also encourage research investigating how mindfulness practice might improve other decision-making processes and outcomes.

Absolutely! I would suspect that meditation would help guard against a whole host of other cognitive biases, but it would be fantastic if there were scientific evidence to back this up. For instance, years ago when I was the president of the student body, I once tried to begin a general assembly meeting with a quick 1-minute meditation, but the maturity level just wasn’t there. Even after 10 seconds, some of the representatives couldn’t handle the silence. I take the blame for that as I probably didn’t do the method justice by properly introducing it with the research. Can you imagine, if, before every semi-major decision, you took 10, 5, 2, or even 1 minute just to sit still and clear your mind of the previous discussion. I wonder how much lost revenue there is from not taking a moment to pause and reflect before a decision is made.

I should say, I’m sure that there is certainly time between major decisions (i.e. mergers & acquisitions, although, there is fascinating research on how big of a failure those can be), but I’m thinking about the mid-level manager who makes many decisions in a day that can affect the bottomline of a company. The managers that make quick decisions about whether to go with this contract or that contract, whether to make this purchase or that purchase. Maybe that’s a good place to start with more research.

ResearchBlogging.orgA. C. Hafenbrack, Z. Kinias, & S. G. Barsade (2013). Debiasing the Mind Through Meditation: Mindfulness and the Sunk-Cost Bias Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797613503853

Why Poor People Have Harsher Moral Judgments

Morals is certainly one of my interests, as is evidenced by my series on Michael Sandel’s bookWhat Money Can[‘t] Buy. And so, when I came across a journal article called, “A Lack of Material Resources Causes Harsher Moral Judgments,” I was intrigued, if not a bit saddened.

The researchers attempted to test the idea of whether a lack of material resources would cause people to have harsher moral judgments. The reason they posited this was because a lack of material resources is correlated with a lower ability to cope with other people’s harsh behaviour. Not only were they able to prove that a relationship exists between a lack of material resources and harsher moral judgments, but they were also able to prove this true in state dependent instances. Meaning, yes, a lack of material resources corresponded to making harsher judgments, but even when participants perceived themselves as having a lack of material resources, they offered harsher moral judgments.

The implications of this research seem rather important.

While it’s not specifically addressed in the study, I wonder what the plotted relationship between harsher moral judgments and income would look like. That is, I wonder at what point does income no longer correlate with harsher moral judgments. In particular, I wonder about the whole idea that there are 24 times as many millionaires in the US Congress than there are in the US population. As a result, I’d expect that moral judgments would be less harsh (than if there were fewer millionaires), but we know that doesn’t quite make sense because there are more things than just income that affect moral judgments.

More recently, however, I wonder about the World Economic Forum and the data released that less than 100 people have as much wealth as over 50% of the world’s population. By the information gleaned from the study, we’d expect that over half of the world’s population would have harsh moral judgments.

On a smaller scale, I’d wonder about the psychological health of people who have harsher moral judgments. It may seem only tangentially related, but negative thinking has been shown to have negative effects on one’s health. As  result, I’d expect that these harsher moral judgments might have an effect on one’s health.

ResearchBlogging.orgM. Pitesa, & S. Thau (2014). A Lack of Material Resources Causes Harsher Moral Judgments Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797613514092