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Abstract

People often make decisions that involve tradeoffs between current and future benefits, such as deciding whether to buy a new gadget or save for retirement, whether to choose an indulgent or a healthy snack, or whether to watch another episode of a favorite TV show or go to bed and get some rest. When discussing these types of decisions, the analogy is often made that people treat the future self as if it were another person; implying that they subordinate the needs of the future self to their current needs and desires in the same manner that they subordinate the needs of others. Although it has been demonstrated that people make similar choices for future selves and others in some contexts, it remains unclear whether these behaviors are governed by the same decision processes. The current paper explores whether the future self is in fact treated like another person by directly comparing the influence of four relevant characteristics (need, deservingness, liking, and similarity) on monetary decisions involving another person or the future self. The influence of these characteristics on allocations was found to be similar for both types of targets. Nevertheless, monetary allocations to the future self were higher than allocations to others even when controlling for levels of the four characteristics. This suggests that though the future self is treated like others in some ways, important differences remain that are not fully captured by this analogy.

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