The tendency to discount larger future benefits in favor of smaller immediate gains (i.e., temporal discounting) is relevant to the issue of obesity. Successful weight loss requires individuals to sacrifice immediate culinary pleasures in favor of future health gains. Based on the notion that increasing the vividness of one's future self may mitigate temporal discounting and promote the ability to delay gratification, we examined whether viewing one's weight-reduced self (i.e., the ideal self) in a virtual environment can decrease temporal discounting and lead to better regulation of dietary practices. Seventy-six undergraduates who had reported an intention to lose weight were recruited to participate in a laboratory experiment and were randomly assigned to interact with either the weight-reduced self (experimental condition) or the present self (control condition) by looking into a dressing mirror in a virtual fitting room. A temporal-discounting task and a taste test were subsequently administered. Results showed that, compared with control participants, participants who viewed their weight-reduced avatars ate less ice cream in a taste test and were more likely to choose a sugar-free drink as a reward. The discounting rate mediated the association between the avatar manipulation and the amount of ice cream eaten in the subsequent taste test. Overall, our findings suggest that a computer-generated image of one's weight-reduced self may assist in resisting impulses that promote immediate gratification over delayed benefits. This research provides a new approach for controlling impulsive behavior such as dietary regulation and weight control.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Psychology
- Applied Psychology
- Human-Computer Interaction
- Computer Science Applications