(WOIO) - Saving for retirement ranks second as the financial matter that worries Americans most. Yet 41 percent of us don't think we'll be ready to retire when we want, which caught the attention of a psychologist who wondered if Americans might save more if they literally faced the future.
"So we thought, is there any way we can have people sit down and have a conversation with future selves to make that future self more vivid to them?" asked psychologist Hal Hershfield.
In a study started at Stanford University, researchers put people in a virtual reality room, where they confronted an older self aged by computer in the mirror.
"The age progression algorithm basically mimics the processes of aging," explained Hershfield. "It sags the cheeks a little bit, it adds a little bit more fatty tissue under the eyes."
To encourage saving, Merrill Lynch has started using a similar algorithm on its website. The conclusion? It works.
"There is an impact," said Hershfield. "In one of the studies, we found people who were exposed to images of future selves allocated about twice as much money to a hypothetical saving account."
Hershfield believes the time-traveling encounter could help people think more about their diets and health, too.
"It allows people to say, 'OK, there is this future version of me and that person is going to benefit or suffer from the choices that I make today'," said Hershfield.