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Reminders of mortality increase concern for environmental legacy
Date:6/26/2012

When we turn on the A/C in the summer, our first thought is probably one of relief. If it's 100 degrees in the shade, we're probably not thinking about how our decision might influence the environmental legacy we leave for future generations. It's not that we don't care, it's just that we typically don't think about our behavior in terms of long-term, inter-generational tradeoffs. But new research suggests that reminders of our own mortality may encourage us to keep future generations in mind as we make decisions.

In a study published in Psychological Science, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science, Kimberly Wade-Benzoni, of Duke University Fuqua School of Business, and her colleagues decided to focus on a kind of problem they call an "intergenerational dilemma," examining whether certain factors might lead the current generation to make sacrifices on behalf of future generations, even when there aren't any material or economic incentives to do so.

When people make decisions, they often focus on rewards in the present at the expense of rewards in the future a phenomenon called 'intertemporal discounting.' The hurdle to overcome with intergenerational dilemmas is that they require us to focus on future rewards that will be enjoyed by someone else. These dilemmas are unique because there isn't just a temporal distance between decision-maker and beneficiary, there's a social distance, too.

Wade-Benzoni and her colleagues hypothesized that reminding people of their mortality might be one way to strengthen their connection to future others, activating what the researchers call a 'legacy motivation.' They theorized that thoughts of death might be enough to motivate people to want to leave a positive legacy, even when that legacy spans several generations, effectively overcoming the temporal and social hurdles involved in intergenerational dilemmas. The researchers decided to test their hypothesis in several exper
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Contact: Anna Mikulak
amikulak@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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