Consideration of future consequences
Psychlopedia -- Key concepts -- Cognitive concepts -- Consideration of future consequences
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Often, individuals need to decide which of several courses of action to pursue. They might, for example, need to decide whether they should watch TV or study. While reaching these decisions, some individuals are especially likely to consider the future, rather than immediate, consequences of their decisions. These individuals are willing to sacrifice their immediate needs to secure future benefits (Strathman, Gleicher, Boninger, & Edwards, 1994). This inclination, called consideration of future consequences, reduces the likelihood of many undesirable behaviors, such as aggressive acts and increases the likelihood of many desirable behaviors, such as preference for public transport (for reviews, see Joireman, Strathman, & Balliet, 2006; Strathman & Joireman, 2005).
Indeed, recent studies indicate that consideration of future consequences is negatively correlated with many unhealthy or destructive behaviors. Specifically, if people report consideration of future consequences, they are more likely to enact behaviors that enhance health, such as engage in exercise (Adams & Nettle, 2009), maintain a healthy or suitable diet (Piko & Brassai, 2009), limit their exposure to the sun (Heckman, Wilson, & Ingersoll, 2009), participate in health screening (Dorr, Krueckeberg, Strathman, & Wood, 1999; Orbell & Hagger, 2006), and vaccinate their daughters against cervical cancer (Morison, Cozzolino, & Orbell, 2010). They are also more inclined to resist unhealthy temptations, including smoking (Adams & Nettle, 2009; Kovac & Rise, 2007) or environments that could provoke hearing loss, such as nightclubs (Vogel, Brug, Van der Ploeg,& Raat, 2010).
Correlates of consideration of future consequences
Individuals who consider the future consequences of their actions and decisions are, frequently but not invariably, more aggressive than individuals who do not consider the future consequences of their actions and decisions (Joireman, Anderson, & Strathman, 2003). Similarly, as an experimental study demonstrated, consideration of future consequences tends to foster cooperation, rather than competition, between individuals and groups (Wolf, Cohen, Kirchner, Rea, Montoya, & Insko, 2009). Nevertheless, consideration of future consequences is positively related to aggression only in a subset of contexts.
For example, aggression towards a person that individuals will never meet again is not strongly related to consideration of future consequences. In contrast, aggression towards a person that individuals will regularly meet again is inversely, and appreciably, related to consideration of future consequences (Joireman, Anderson, & Strathman, 2003). That is, if individuals are likely to meet someone again, aggressive interactions now might undermine the benefits of this relationship in the future. Only individuals who consider the future consequences of their actions are especially sensitive to this possibility.
Moore and Dahlen (2008) showed that consideration of future consequences is inversely associated with aggressive driving and the expression anger. Again, when individuals consider future consequences, the degree to which they are governed by their immediate impulses may diminish.
Consideration of future consequences, in general, is positively related to health behaviors and inversely related to unhealthy acts, such as substance abuse. Piko, Luszczynska, Gibbons, and Tekozel (2005), for example, showed that consideration of future consequences, as a measure by a shortened version of the traditional scale, coupled with life satisfaction and academic achievement, were inversely associated with incidence of smoking. In addition, consideration of future consequences was associated with smoking behavior across a range of nations, including Hungary, Turkey, Poland, and America.
Likewise, consideration of future consequences is negatively associated with the tendency to smoke (Adams, 2012). In particular, if people tend to consider immediate consequences, epitomized by items like "I only act to satisfy immediate concerns, figuring the future will take care of itself", they are more likely to smoke. Items that focus on future consequences, such as "Often I engage in particular behaviour in order to achieve outcomes that may not result for many years", are not correlated with smoking status.
Consideration of future consequences can even affect the extent to which parents engage in health behaviors to protect their children. In a study conducted by Morison, Cozzolino, and Orbell (2010), parents received information about vaccines, intended to prevent infection with the human papillomavirus, the cause of cervical cancer. Both the benefits and concerns of this vaccine were delineated. Parents then transcribed some of their thoughts and completed a series of measures about the attitudes towards the vaccine and their consideration of future consequences. If parents considered future consequences, they generated more positive than negative thoughts about the vaccine--presumably because most of the drawbacks of this procedure relate to more immediate events. They were more inclined to organize this vaccine for their daughters in the future.
Consideration of future consequences also moderates the effects of techniques that are intended to inspire people to exercise. In one study, conducted by Ouellette, Hessling, Gibbons, Reis-Bergan, and Gerrard (2005), some but not all participants were instructed to reflect upon the ideal they would like to achieve in the future. This reflection increased the likelihood that people would exercise, but only if their consideration of future consequences was elevated. Presumably, future possibilities motivate only people who consider the future consequences of their behavior.
Consideration of future consequences is also positively associated with the inclination to conserve the environment (Joireman, Lasane, Bennett, Richards, & Solaimani, 2001). Individuals who report a consideration of future consequences, for example, prefer to utilize public transport; this association is especially pronounced in individuals who recognize the detrimental impact of private vehicles on natural environments (Joireman, Van Lange, & Van Vugt, 2004; see also Joireman, Van Lange, & Van Vugt, 2001).
Consideration of future consequences, however, does not always encourage behaviors that are intended to help the environment. In particular, when the context or setting appreciably constrains or determines the behavior of individuals, consideration of future consequences is not significantly associated with choices or behavior. However, when the context or setting does not greatly constrain or determine the behavior of individuals, consideration of future consequences becomes more likely to affect choices. This premise is called the ABC model (Demarque, Apostolidis, & Joule, 2013; Guagnano, Stern, & Dietz, 1995)--a model that assumes the association between attitudes and behaviors diminishes when the context is extreme.
This possibility was verified by Demarque, Apostolidis, and Joule (2013). In this study, participants were asked whether or not they would be willing to man a stand that was established to promote the environment. In one condition, the context was intended to shape behavior appreciably. Participants were asked to identify words they associate with the environment, purportedly to facilitate the development of a slogan. This task was actually intended to foster some commitment to the cause. Next, they received persuasive information about the benefits of this stand. In a second condition, the context was intended to shape behavior but only moderately. Specifically, participants received the persuasive information, but their commitment to the cause was not fostered. In the final condition, the context did not shape behavior at all: No persuasive information was presented. In addition, consideration of future consequences was assessed.
If participants received only the persuasive information, reflecting a context that moderately shapes behavior, consideration of future consequences was positively associated with willingness to support the environment. In the other conditions, consideration of future consequences was not significantly associated with willingness to support the environment. However, participants who first committed to the cause by completing the word association task were especially willing to man the stand.
Motivation and effort
Consideration of future consequences is also associated with persistence and effort (Joireman, Balliet, Sprott, Spangenberg, & Schultz, 2008). That is, if individuals consider the future, rather than immediate, consequences of their actions and decisions, they are more likely to persist with taxing or tedious activities. Specifically, individuals who do not endorse items that relate to the importance of immediate consequences--and thus are not as susceptible to temptations--demonstrate more self control.
Organizational citizenship behavior
Consideration of future consequences is positively related to organizational citizenship behavior, such as accepting unpleasant but necessary initiatives and assisting colleagues. Nevertheless, consideration of future consequences translates to these discretionary and helpful acts only when individuals feel committed to the organization (Joireman, Kamdar, Daniels, & Duell, 2006). Presumably, if individuals feel committed to the organization, they want the workplace to flourish in the future. This desire will prompt organizational citizenship behaviors, but only if they deliberate over the future consequences of their impending actions.
A variety of studies have shown that consideration of future consequences is associated with fiscal responsibility. Consideration of future consequences, for example, is positively related to the inclination of individuals to save money (Nyhus & Webley, 2001; Webley & Nyhus, 2006).
To some extent, this fiscal responsibility could reflect limited temporal discounting. That is, individuals usually assume that rewards or benefits now are more important than rewards or benefits in the future, called temporal discounting. Temporal discounting has indeed been shown to diminish in participants who consider future consequences (Joireman, Sprott, & Spangenberg, 2005).
According to Graso and Probst (2012), consideration of future consequences should affect job performance. Specifically, if individuals seldom consider future consequences, they are more interested in more immediate outcomes. They will often work quickly and expediently, unconcerned about errors or other limitations that might be detrimental in the future. In contrast, if individuals often consider future consequences, they are more concerned about problems that could be detrimental to the future. They will, therefore, often sacrifice quantity to guarantee quality. Taken together, consideration of future consequences should be negatively related to quantity and positively related to quality.
Graso and Probst (2012) uncovered results that confirm these arguments. In this study, university students completed a data entry task, in which they were granted 10 minutes to enter resumes into a database. They were told that one in three students would be paid, and some individuals might even be granted jobs, if they performed well. Yet, they were not told whether quantity or quality was desirable. Furthermore, they completed a measure that gauges consideration of future consequences. When consideration of future consequences were high, participants entered fewer words but also committed fewer errors or skipped fewer words.
A few studies have examined which demographic variables are related to consideration of future consequences. Toepoel (2010), for example, showed that education is positively associated with consideration of future consequences. Petrocelli (2003) showed that consideration of future consequences was elevated in men, relative to women, but Toepoel (2010) did not replicate this finding.
Mechanisms that underpin consideration of future consequences
Overall, research into the processes that affect consideration of future consequences is limited. Nevertheless, a variety accounts have been proposed (e.g., see Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999). Strathman, Gleicher, Boninger, and Edwards (1994) maintain that dramatic improvements in the socioeconomic status of individuals, as well as other events, might affect the extent to which individuals feel their decisions and behaviors now could affect the lives in the future. These changes, thus might foster a consideration of future consequences.
The educational opportunities of individuals can also affect the likelihood they will consider future consequences. Individuals who complete courses in decision making, for example, are more likely to consider future consequences (Bernheim, Garrett, & Maki, 2001). These courses might provoke reflection, which in turn can dissociate individuals from their immediate urges.
Mischel, Shoda, and Rodriguez (1992), in contrast, primarily ascribe consideration of future consequences to family environments in which delay of gratification is nurtured. That is, children who are reinforced when they defer a pleasurable activity, for example, might be more likely to develop the inclination to orient their attention to future consequences. This mechanism is analogous to the finding that future orientation of parents is associated with future orientation of children (Webley & Nyhus, 2006).
Mechanisms that underpin the benefits of consideration of future consequences
According to Joireman, Shaffer, Balliet, and Strathman (2012), consideration of future consequences may foster a promotion focus, in which individuals tend to shift their attention to their future aspirations instead of merely their immediate duties, called a promotion focus (see regulatory focus theory). In this pair of studies, participants completed measures of consideration of future consequences, regulatory focus, and exercise behavior. If participants endorsed the items that relate to a consideration of future consequences, they were more likely to report both a promotion focus and a prevention focus--the motivation to fulfill immediate duties. However, if participants endorsed the items that relate to a consideration of immediate consequences, they were more likely to report a prevention focus. Finally, a promotion focus mediated the association between consideration of future consequences and exercise behavior.
Several implications can be derived from these results. First, the mediation findings imply that some of the benefits of this consideration of future consequences can be ascribed to a promotion focus. Presumably, when individuals consider the future, they are more sensitive to their future aspirations. This awareness of future aspirations tends to facilitate an abstract construal, in which people focus on broad patterns and can reflect upon their alternatives more flexibly. Furthermore, this abstract construal highlights the enduring values of individuals and enhances self-control (see construal level theory).
Yet, consideration of future consequences also fostered a prevention focus. Arguably, after people consider the future consequences of their behaviors, they become more attuned to the problems that might unfold if their duties are disregarded.
Measures of consideration of future consequences
Most researchers in this literature utilize the same measure, developed and validated by Strathman, Gleicher, Boninger, and Edwards (1994), to gauge consideration of future consequences. This measure comprises 12 items. Typical items include "I only act to satisfy immediate concerns, figuring the future will take care of itself" (reverse coded), "My convenience is a big factor in the decisions I make or the actions I take (reverse coded)", and "I think it is important to take warnings about negative outcomes seriously even if the negative outcome will not occur for many years".
Initially, this measure was assumed to comprise one factor only; recent factor analyses, however, have distinguished two distinct factors, with various interpretations (e.g., Joireman, Balliet, Sprott, Spangenberg, & Schultz, 2008; Petrocelli, 2003; Toepoel, 2010).
To illustrate, these studies indicate that one factor represents all the questions that need to be reverse scored--that is, questions in which agreement reflects consideration of immediate consequences. The second factor represents all the questions that do not need to be reverse scored--that is, questions in which agreement reflects consideration of future consequences (e.g., Joireman, Balliet, Sprott, Spangenberg, & Schultz, 2008; Petrocelli, 2003; Toepoel, 2010). A confirmatory factor analysis, reported by Hevey, Pertl, Thomas, Maher, Craig, and Ni Chuinneagain (2010), corroborated this general proposition as well (for further evidence of a two-factor solution, see Adams, 2012; Joireman, Shaffer, Balliet, & Strathman, 2012).
Besides the psychometric properties of these scales, Joireman, Shaffer, Balliet, and Strathman (2012) also highlighted other benefits of a two-factor solution. In particular, the two factors indicate the extent to which people consider future consequences (e.g., "I am willing to sacrifice my immediate happiness or wellbeing to achieve future outcomes") or immediate consequences (e.g., "My behavior is only influenced by the immediate outcomes of my actions)". These factors are distinct: Some people may consider both future and immediate consequences more than other individuals. In addition, whenever consideration of future consequences correlates with the capacity of individuals to resist temptations, researchers can posit a buffer model--that is, a focus on the future diminishes the impact of powerful urges. In contrast, whenever consideration of immediate consequences is positively associated with this capacity, researchers can posit a susceptibility model: that is, a limited focus on the immediate environment may diminish the salience or urges and temptations.
Toepoel (2010) administered the scale to the general population in Holland, every 12 months for 11 years. Alpha internal consistency ranged from 72 to .77. However, previous studies had usually generated higher values of internal consistency, ranging from .80 to .86 in the studies reported by Strathman, Gleicher, Boninger, and Edwards (1994). Toepoel (2010) utilized a heterogenous, rather than student sample, and this difference could explain the lower estimates of internal consistency. Furthermore, for most years, one of the twelve items had been dropped by Toepoel (2010).
Stability over time
Toepoel (2010) examined the stability of this measure over an 11 year period. In particular, consideration of future consequences was included in a longitudinal survey about financial behavior, administered to the Dutch population from 1996 to 2006. In general, the correlations between one year and another year during this decade ranged from .40 to .60. In addition, ANOVAs revealed that consideration of future consequences did, in general, change across the 11 year period. However, consecutive years seldom, but sometimes, differed from one another.
Manipulations of this consideration of future consequences
In a study conducted by Wolf, Cohen, Kirchner, Rea, Montoya, and Insko (2009), consideration of future consequences was manipulated experimentally. That is, some of the participants were instructed to consider the future actions of partners in a prisoner's dilemma. This prompt was shown to increase cooperation.
Potential complications and controversies
Clarity versus frequency
McElwee and Haugh (2010) showed that clarity and frequency of thoughts about the future culminate in different consequences. In particular, individuals who think clearly about themselves in the future tend to experience more positive states, such as optimism instead of anxiety. In contrast, individuals who often think about themselves in the future tend to experience negative states, such as anxiety.
Specifically, in one study, conducted by McElwee and Haugh (2010), participants completed a measure that assessed clarity and frequency of thoughts about their future selves. Questions that assessed clarity included "Images of my self in the future are very 'hazy' "(reverse coded) or "My future is too uncertain for me to plan very far ahead". Questions that assessed frequency included "It is common for me to spend time thinking about myself as I might be in future stages of life" or "When I daydream, I often see myself as I may be in the future". Next, participants completed a series of other measures about their orientation to the future and mood states.
Clarity was positively associated with consideration of future consequences, a future time perspective, positive affect, optimism, and life satisfaction but negatively associated with a past negative time perspective, rumination, negative affect, depression, and alcohol use. Frequency was positively related to consideration of future consequences, future and past time perspective, private self consciousness, rumination, reflection, and negative affect.
The second study examined whether clarity and frequency of thoughts about the future shaped how individuals conceptualized themselves in the future. For example, the extent to which the future self is accessible, as gauged by measure of reaction time, immediate, as gauged by measures of likelihood or distance, as well as detailed and positive varies across individuals. Briefly, clarity was associated with limited accessibility of negative traits and greater perceived likelihood of positive traits. Frequency was associated with greater perceived likelihood of negative traits.
Several mechanisms could underpin the benefits of clarity. Clarity might increased the perceived validity of these images (see fluency and hedonic marking). That is, clarity is perceived as a cue to indicate that a desirable image of the future is valid or likely. In contrast, frequency might sometimes represent an inability to form plausible plans and images of the future. However, because consideration of future consequences is associated with both clarity and frequency, some of the associations with this measure might be obscured.
Consideration of future consequences overlaps conceptually and empirically with many scales, measures, and concepts. For example, consideration of future consequences is negatively associated with temporal discounting, the inclination to prefer small rewards now to larger rewards later.
Future time perspective
Future time perspective was delineated Zimbardo and Boyd (1999). This scale represents the degree to which individuals ponder future events. Nevertheless, unlike consideration of future consequences, this scale does not represent the extent to which individuals attach importance to these future consequences as they arrive at their decisions. A future time perspective is inversely associated with risky driving behavior (Zimbardo, Keough, & Boyd, 1997).
Multidimensional models of future orientation
Seginer and Shoyer (2012) demonstrated that future orientation entails at six interrelated facets. Three of these facets relate to motivations to enhance the future. The first facet reflects the extent to which individuals value some future goal, such as their career, gauged by items such as "Career is central to one's life". The second facet reflects the degree to which individuals expect some goal to be achieved. A typical item to measure this facet is "How likely do you think it is that your career will materialize?" The third facet is called internal control, indicating the degree to which people feel their effort and ability enables them to fulfill these goals. A sample item is "What effect will ability have on materialization of your career?"
These motivations affect cognitions and behaviors that relate to the future. Cognitions primarily revolve around hopes, epitomized by items such as "How often do you consider your future job?" Finally, these cognitions affect two facets of behavior: exploration, measured by items like "To what extent do you look for information regarding your career?", and commitment, measured by items like "I have clear plans regarding my career?".
Using structural equation modeling, Seginer and Shoyer (2012) showed how the future orientation of mothers shaped the future orientation of their children. In particular, when mothers reported a future orientation towards their children, and thus agreed to items like "I expect my child to have a career", their children reported a higher self-esteem. This self-esteem was positively associated with the motivational, cognitive, and behavioral components of future orientation in their children, all of whom were adolescents.
The being versus becoming mindset
Sometimes, individuals focus their attention on their existing states or traits, called the being mindset. On other occasions, individuals focus their attention on the states or traits they might be experience or cultivate in the future, called the becoming mindset. That is, they contemplate who they might become rather than who they are now (Johnson & Stapel, 2010).
When individuals experience a being mindset, they are more interested in evaluating themselves rather than focusing on which qualities they could cultivate or which accomplishments they could achieve. To evaluate themselves, they tend to contrast themselves with other people. If they observe a very proficient person, they feel inferior in comparison: Their confidence declines. If they observe an incompetent person, they feel superior in comparison. Their confidence escalates, and their performance on many tasks thus improves (Johnson & Stapel, 2010).
In contrast, when individuals experience a becoming mindset, they are more interested in the qualities they could develop in the future or the goals they could achieve. They are not as concerned about evaluating themselves now, but more interested in which attributes they could cultivate. In this instance, if they observe a very proficient person, they feel inspired by the possibility of their own improvement. Their confidence actually escalates. If they observe an incompetent person, they do not feel as inspired, and their confidence as well as performance does not improve (Johnson & Stapel, 2010). .
Johnson and Stapel (2010) undertook a series of studies that verifies this reasoning. In the first study, participants completed the sentence unscrambling task, in which they needed to construct sentences from sets of five words. For some participants, words that correspond to a being mindset were embedded in this task, such as now, stable, and be. For other participants, words that correspond to a becoming mindset were embedded in this task, such as becoming, move, and future. Next, participants were asked to list three facts about themselves. If a becoming, rather than being, mindset had been evoked, participants were more likely to refer to phrases that reflect change such as "I am studying to become a lawyer" and "I hope to finish my studies by the end of this year".
In the second study, participants wrote an essay about either their qualities now or the qualities they would like to develop in the future, to elicit a being mindset or becoming mindset respectively. Next, participants read about a person. Some participants read about a successful and attractive person, whereas other participants read about an unsuccessful and unattractive person. Finally, participants completed a general knowledge test. If a being mindset was evoked, participants were more confident, and thus performed better, after reading about an unsuccessful person: That is, they contrasted themselves with this person. In contrast, if a becoming mindset was evoked, participants were more confident, and thus performed better, after reading about a successful person: This person inspired these participants. The third study was similar, but also showed this pattern of findings was mediated by expectations of their own performance.
In the fourth study, participants first listened to the song Yesterday or Tomorrow, from Annie, to elicit a being mindset or becoming mindset respectively. Next, they again read about either an intelligent or unintelligent person. However, they read an additional article that indicated that intelligence was either malleable or fixed. Finally, they completed the test of general knowledge again. The results mirrored the findings that were derived from the previous studies, with one exception: When a becoming mindset was evoked, participants were not inspired to perform well if informed that intelligence is fixed. That is, in this mindset, participants are sensitive only to information that signals the possibility of change and improvement. They disregard information, such as intelligence, if they assume these qualities are fixed instead of malleable.
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Created by Dr Simon Moss on 09/06/2010
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