Long Term Thinkers Make Better Health Decisions
These were the findings of a study due to be published in the January 2010 issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences that was undertaken at Kansas State University by lead investigator James Daugherty, a doctoral student in psychology, and Gary Brase, associate professor of psychology. The authors have already presented their findings at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making in Boston, Massachusetts, last month.
Daugherty explained to the press that:
"If you are more willing to pick later, larger rewards rather than taking the immediate payoff, you are more future-minded than present-minded."
For instance, a future-minded person would be more likely to exercise, and less likely to smoke and drink, he said.
For the study, Daugherty and Brase wanted to investigate two things: how people's perspectives on time (eg future-minded versus present-minded) compared with their health-related behaviour, and which measures of time perspective best predicted health behaviors.
They asked 467 undergraduates of average age 19 years to complete three questionnaires about their short and long term thinking: one measured "delay discounting" (the Money Choice Questionnaire), and the other two measured time perspectives (the Consideration of Future Consequences Scale and Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory).
For example one of the delay discounting questions in the Money Choice Questionnaire asked "Would you prefer $35 today or $45 in 35 days?", and the questions in the time perspectives questionnaires asked respondents to rate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with statements like "I am willing to sacrifice my immediate happiness or well-being in order to achieve future outcomes".
The participants also answered a series of questions about their health behaviours: such as how often they ate breakfast, exercised or used tobacco, and how concerned they were about health risks like high cholesterol and contracting AIDS.
Daugherty and Brase found that it was possible to predict participants' health behaviours according to whether they were future-minded or present-minded.
For example, they found that "delay discounting and time perspective significantly improved the incremental prediction of tobacco, alcohol, and drug use, exercise frequency, eating breakfast, wearing a safety belt, estimated longevity, health concerns ...".
They also found that participants who gave future-minded answers were more likely to report healthy behaviours.
The findings could shed light on how people deal with negative health behaviours: Brase said they could help people make better health decisions. A person with a present-minded time perspective would find it easier to make changes if they could see the rewards sooner rather than later.
"If somebody goes into a weight loss center, the clinicians could measure a client's time perspective. Then the clinicians would know the more effective way of helping the client reach his or her weight loss goal," he explained.
The way to encourage present-minded people to adopt positive behaviours is to emphasize minimal investment now for a quick payoff in the near future, said Daugherty, explaining it was rather like the fitness equipment ads that say if you use this kit 20 minutes a day several times a week you will soon see the results.
"You promote the idea that you have to do very little and you're going to see these great results," said Daugherty.
Brase said they hoped to help psychologists better understand which measure of time perspective would be most useful with a client.
He and Daugherty now plan to look at how present-mindedness and future-mindedness link to environmentally responsible behaviors like recycling:
"Environmentally responsible behaviors are not benefitting only you, and those payoffs are not necessarily reached next week or next month," said Daugherty.
"If you exercise for a month, you're going to see some really immediate payoffs. If you recycle a few extra aluminum cans over a year, you don't see those benefits in the same way," he added.
"Taking time to be healthy: Predicting health behaviors with delay discounting and time perspective."
James R. Daugherty, Gary L. Brase.
Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 48, Issue 2, January 2010, Pages 202-207
Source: Kansas State University.
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