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• Approaches to enhance altruism can positively impact individuals and societies.
• In three studies, we examine the influence of episodic thinking on social discounting.
• Use of episodic thinking to imagine other’s scenarios reduced social discounting.
• Episodic thinking to imagine the self in the future reduced social discounting.
Episodic future thinking, which refers to the use of prospective imagery to concretely imagine oneself in future scenarios, has been shown to reduce delay discounting (enhance self-control). A parallel approach, in which prospective imagery is used to concretely imagine other's scenarios, may similarly reduce social discounting (i.e., enhance altruism). In study 1, participants engaged in episodic thinking about the self or others, in a repeated-measures design, while completing a social discounting task. Reductions in social discounting were observed as a function of episodic thinking about others, though an interaction with order was also observed. Using an independent-measures design in study 2, the effect of episodic thinking about others was replicated. Study 3 addressed a limitation of studies 1 and 2, the possibility that simply thinking about others decreased social discounting. Capitalizing on Construal Level Theory, which specifies that social distance and time in the future are both dimensions of a common psychological distance, we hypothesized that episodic future thinking should also decrease social discounting. Participants engaged in episodic future thinking or episodic present thinking, in a repeated-measures design, while completing a social discounting task. The pattern of results was similar to study 1, providing support for the notion that episodic thinking about psychologically distant outcomes (for others or in the future) reduces social discounting. Application of similar episodic thinking approaches may enhance altruism.
Journal: Journal of Experimental Social Psychology - Volume 65, July 2016, Pages 74–81