research digest

Excerpted from Capital Ideas

Feeling Generous? Thank Your Future Self

bartelsDo you think your life will change much in the next year? If so, it could be a good time for a charity to ask you for a donation. According to research by Daniel M. Bartels, assistant professor of marketing, along with Trevor Kvaran and Shaun Nichols of the University of Arizona, your generosity is linked to how connected you feel to your future self. The less connected you feel, the more generous you act. Their study, "Selfless Giving," was published in the November 2013 issue of Cognition.

Connectedness to the future self is called "persistence of self" - what individuals understand about themselves today and how much they think their identity will change over time. If you anticipate changing jobs, having a child, or otherwise experiencing a lot of change in your life, you may feel less connected to your future self.

Philosophers have long held that persistence of self should impact generosity toward others. Bartels, Kvaran, and Nichols designed studies that offer evidence it actually does.

In three studies, participants completed online questionnaires about self-connectedness, to establish whether they felt more or less connected to their selves in one year's time. Then, the researchers told participants they had a chance of winning $6, and asked them how much of their potential winnings they wanted to donate to a children's charity. The donations would be paid in either one week or one year.

Participants who had been induced to feel less connected to their future selves contributed significantly more of their winnings when those donations would be paid out in a year (following the personal change). This effect again disappeared when the donations were to be paid out in a week.

"If you think you'll be substantially different in a year from now, you will be less interested in your own concerns and more likely to help out other people whom you care about," Bartels explains.–Mary Ellen Egan 

Photo by Dan Dry

Last Updated 4/23/14