Fearing the future? Future-oriented thought produces aversion to risky investments, trust, and immorality

Andrew E. Monroe, Sarah E. Ainsworth, Kathleen D. Vohs, Roy F. Baumeister

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


Three experiments tested the behavioral effects of prospection on risk tolerance, trust, and moral judgment. While previous research shows that people generally hold positive beliefs about their futures, our analysis demonstrates that actively thinking about one's future engenders conservative behaviors to avoid potential losses or harm. In Experiment 1, writing about one's future self, compared to one's present self, caused people to favor low-risk, low-payoff investments rather than high-risk, high-payoff ones. In Experiment 2, restating sentences about the future (as opposed to the present) reduced behavioral trust. Participants shared less money with various partners in a potentially lucrative investment game. That same manipulation of prospection in Experiment 3 increased blame for misdeeds - while having no effect on praise for virtuous action. These finding suggest that, although people often hold optimistic beliefs about the future, prospection may lead people to behave cautiously as if wary about what could go wrong.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-78
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Cognition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2017



  • Blame
  • Moral judgment
  • Prospection
  • Risk
  • Trust
  • Uncertainty

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