Most people intend to save more money, and spend less, than they currently do. If they were offered a simple way to do so, would they take it? New research suggests the answer is no.
And the reason is that their very good intentions can give rise to a sense of optimism that leads them to undervalue opportunities that could make it easier to actually achieve a long-term savings goal.
"Our results highlight the costs of being too optimistic," said the study’s senior author, psychology professor Derek Koehler.
Researchers at Waterloo asked students in the university’s co- operative education program to set a savings goal at the beginning of a work term, and then asked them again at the end of the term whether they had met their goal. Co-op students alternate work and study terms, and most plan to save much of their earnings from the work term for use during the subsequent study term.
At the beginning of the term, the students expressed strong intentions to save and estimated their chances of doing so to be quite high, around 85 per cent on average. If those self-predictions were accurate, then about 85 per cent of the students would have been expected to achieve their goal by the end of the term.
But only 65 per cent of the students reported having been successful. In short, at the beginning of the term, students were overly optimistic about their chances of reaching their savings goal.
Some of the students were offered enrolment in a program that could help them to save. The program required them to monitor their savings and report their progress every other week during their work term. It turns out that the students in the program were more successful at achieving their savings goals.
Although the progress-report program helped the students to save, the students failed to recognize its benefits.
When they were asked at the beginning to predict the impact it would have, most students thought the program wouldn’t do anything to help them. After all, they were very optimistic (in fact, too optimistic) that they could achieve their savings goal without any outside help.
In a second study, the progress-report program was described to another group of students, who were asked how much they were willing to pay to be enrolled in it. (The cost was deducted from an $8 payment the students received for being in the study.)
Students were typically unwilling to pay more than $1 for the program, and the most common response was zero. In reality, the progress-report program seems to have been worth quite a bit more, given that it increased students’ chances of achieving their savings goal, which averaged around $5,000, by a full 10 percentage points.
The study’s authors suggest that being overly optimistic about achieving future goals, whether in saving money or in some other aspect of life, can be costly if it leads people to overlook ways in which they could make it easier to accomplish those goals.
Take RSPs as an example. Many people intend to make a contribution every year but fail to do so. Optimism that they will manage to make a lump-sum contribution by the end of the year might lead them to undervalue the benefits of setting up automatic monthly (and less painful) withdrawals from a bank account to a RSP.
As the authors conclude, optimism "can be costly if the disproportionate focus on good intentions leads people to overlook steps they could take to make their futures brighter."
Interestingly, the optimism the students exhibited in predicting their own success in achieving their savings goals did not extend to their predictions of how other students would fare.
In fact, the same students who had undervalued the progress-report program for themselves, thought it would be helpful for others.
The study's authors say that being "in the grip" of a strong intention to accomplish an important goal makes people’s self-predictions of their own future behaviour more susceptible to excessive optimism than their predictions of how others will behave.
The study, Good Intentions, Optimistic Self-Predictions, and Missed Opportunities, is scheduled to appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. It is available online at spp.sagepub.com/content/early/recent.
The two other researchers involved in the study are Rebecca White, a postdoctoral fellow with the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Leslie John a doctoral candidate in behavioural decision research at Carnegie Mellon University.
About WaterlooThe University of Waterloo, located at the heart of Canada's Technology Triangle, is one of Canada's leading comprehensive universities. Waterloo is home to 30,000 full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students who are dedicated to making the future better and brighter. Waterloo, known for the largest post- secondary co-operative education program in the world, supports enterprising partnerships in learning, research and discovery. For more information about Waterloo, visit www.uwaterloo.ca.
John Morris, Waterloo media relations, 519-888-4435 or firstname.lastname@example.org
John Morris | EurekAlert!
Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung
High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
21.10.2016 | Information Technology
21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences