Virtual Reality Study Encourages Subjects to Save for the Future

Study Encourages Saving for Future

ByABC News
December 9, 2010, 5:19 PM

Dec. 9, 2010— -- At the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University, researchers are tackling one of the Beatles' crucial questions: "Will you still feed me, when I'm 64?"

Hal Ersner-Hershfield, a behavioral-finance researcher from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, has developed a new idea to help young people answer that question -- to determine if they've saved enough to feed and take care of themselves in their 60s.

"The average American, the average person, is not taking a ton of ownership over their finances," Ersner-Hershfield said.

He developed a virtual reality world so subjects are able "to literally walk a mile in the shoes of your future self," morphing photographs of the subjects in a sort of aging mirror and allowing them to see what they'll look like when they reach retirement.

"It is a lot more engaging to see yourself in the future and actually be embodied in that self," Ersner-Hershfield said.

Jen Simmons, 22, otherwise known as Subject 012947, responded, "Yeah, not so much," when asked if she'd thought of herself as a living, breathing human being in her 60s.

"I kind of never thought I'd get past right now," she said.

The study is almost like a "reality creation," Ersner-Hershfield said, because "for a lot of people," like Simmons, "that reality doesn't exist to them."

He said there is a difference between knowing you will exist in the future and actually feeling it.

"Sometimes, people don't feel a real connection to who that person is that they'll become in 30 or 40 years," Ersner-Hershfield said.