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A Mental Imagery Intervention to Increase Future Self-Continuity and Reduce Procrastination

Eve-Marie C. Blouin-Hudon* and Timothy A. Pychyl Carleton University, Canada

This research examined how mental imagery practice can increase future self- continuity to reduce procrastination. A total of 193 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to a present-focused meditation or to a future self- focused mental imagery condition. Participants in both conditions were asked to listen to their respective audio recording twice per week for four consecutive weeks and to complete a pre-intervention, half-point, and post-intervention questionnaire. At the four-week mark, hierarchical regression analyses revealed that both future self-continuity and empathic perspective taking were significantly higher for the mental imagery condition than the meditation con- dition. While vividness of future self moderated change in future self- continuity, affective empathy for future self mediated the relation between viv- idness of future self and future self-continuity. Lastly, only empathic perspec- tive taking was a significant moderator of change in procrastination across time. The influence of empathy and future self-continuity on procrastination is discussed.

INTRODUCTION

People always say “be true to yourself” but that�s misleading, because there are two selves. There�s your short term self, and there�s your long term self. And if you�re only true to your short term self, your long term self slowly decays. (Anonymous)

As human beings, we have the imaginative capacity of remembering the past and anticipating how our lives will unfold. Given that this imaginative capacity is a basic part of human nature, it is not surprising that it was addressed very early in the psychological literature. William James (1985, originally published

* Address for correspondence: Eve-Marie C. Blouin-Hudon, Department of Psychology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON, K1S 5B6, Canada. Email: evemarie- blouinhudon@cmail.carleton.ca

This research was funded by a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada awarded to Eve-Marie Blouin- Hudon.

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APPLIED PSYCHOLOGY: AN INTERNATIONAL REVIEW, 2017, 66 (2), 326–352 doi: 10.1111/apps.12088

in 1892) proposed that this ability to connect our past, present, and future selves into one continuous narrative derives from our perception of personal “sameness” through subjective time. For example, a university student pictur- ing herself in a crowded exam room later that term, or even imagining her retirement decades from now, can agree that the image of this future self repre- sents her and not someone else.

However, anticipating who one might be and feeling connected and similar to one�s future self are two different things (Bartels & Rips, 2010; Bartels & Urminsky, 2011). Since people can experience an infinite number of overlap- ping selves across a lifetime (Parfit, 1971, 1987), the perceived connection between each self is contingent on the time that has passed—or the time that has yet to pass—between each self. Consequently, the university student may only feel as connected to her future self as she would be to a stranger (Hersh- field, Cohen, & Thompson, 2011a).

Nonetheless, finding a sense of self that is connected and continuous over subjective time is important as it allows one to maintain a steady sense of iden- tity (Bird & Reese, 2008). In fact, self-continuity can help regulate experiences throughout the lifetime and can be of great assistance to decision-making (Sani, 2008; Blatt & Quinlan, 1967). Quasi-experimental interventions have also found that looking to the future can be beneficial for workplace proactiv- ity (Strauss & Parker, 2015), and making the future more imminent could motivate current action (Lewis & Oyserman, 2015). As a consequence, discon- tinuities within the temporal sense of self can seriously disrupt the organisation of incoming information and result in the maladaptive planning of everyday behaviours (Blatt & Quinlan, 1967; Damasio, 2010; Greenwald, 1980), lead to unethical choices (Hershfield et al., 2011a), decrease overall well-being (Singer & Bluck, 2001), and lead to more procrastination (Blouin-Hudon & Pychyl, 2015).

Procrastination and the Temporally Extended Self

Procrastination is negatively associated with a future time perspective such that consequences for future self are ignored while present states are favoured in order to “feel good now” (Sirois, 2014; Ferrari & Diaz-Morales, 2007; Jackson, Fritch, Nagasaka, & Pope, 2003, Tice & Bratslavsky, 2000; Tice, Bratslavsky, & Baumeister, 2001). Procrastination has also been linked to impulsivity (Steel, 2010), such that they have been suggested to share genetic influences on the effective regulation of behaviour, and on the planning and pursuit of goals (Gustavson, Miyake, Hewitt, & Friedman, 2014). Further- more, research demonstrates that procrastinators have lower extrinsic and intrinsic motivation than non-procrastinators, are more likely to adopt an external locus of control (Brownlow & Reasinger, 2000; Orpen, 1998), have lower self-efficacy to self-regulate (Klassen, Krawchuk, & Rajani, 2008), and

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may use procrastination as a self-handicapping behaviour (Martin, Marsh, & Debus, 2003). Due to the self-defeating nature of procrastination, researchers have come to agree that such needless delay belongs to a larger class of self- regulatory problems and that it might be best considered an avoidant coping strategy (Sirois & Pychyl, 2013). Hence, procrastinators delay situations that are perceived as negative, unpleasant, or challenging because such anticipa- tions increase negative emotions in the present (Blunt & Pychyl, 2000; Pychyl, Lee, Thibodeau, & Blunt, 2000; Tice & Bratslavsky, 2000; Tice et al., 2001). What makes this failure to connect to future self particularly problematic is that by continuously leaving more work for later, procrastination is likely to cause increases in stress and negatively influence subsequent mental health (Flett, Blankstein, & Martin, 1995; Sirois, Melia-Gordon, & Pychyl, 2003; Tice & Baumeister, 1997).

Since a lack of focus to the future partly characterises procrastination (Sirois & Pychyl, 2013; Blouin-Hudon & Pychyl, 2015), the question remains: what are people who procrastinate missing in order to feel more similar and con- nected to the future self? Interestingly, work by Ersner-Hershfield, Wimmer, and Knutson (2009b) suggests that individuals make better decisions for future self in terms of retirement savings when they perceive future self more clearly. To facilitate this “time travel” to the future self, Hershfield and his colleagues used digitally aged photos of research participants. Those who viewed digitally aged selves compared to images of present self made better choices in relation to future self by allocating greater amounts of money to retirement savings. Although digital images of self in the present and future are certainly compel- ling, an alternative may be possible by harnessing our unique ability to imag- ine; in other words, a mental representation as opposed to a photographic representation of future self. Accordingly, an important process of the imagina- tion, mental imagery, could be used as a psychological tool to bridge the gap between present and future self and, consequently, reduce procrastination.

From Imagination to Imagery: Fostering the Temporally Extended Self

The ability to be conscious of objects and states that are not directly perceived through the senses most strongly characterises the concept of imagination in psychology (Byrne, 2005; Angell, 1906). This conceptualisation also defines a central function of imagination: mental imagery. Mental imagery represents the ability to vividly experience and manipulate cognitive “images” through all sensory modalities (e.g. touch, smell, taste, hearing, sight) and is particularly efficient at simulating a felt reality (Spence & Deroy, 2012; Serruya & Grant, 2009; Katz, 1983; White, Sheehan, & Ashton, 1977). Indeed, neuroimaging techniques have demonstrated that direct perception and mental imagery recruit the same neurological substrates and lead to comparable physiological

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and emotional activations (e.g. Kosslyn, Ganis, & Thompson, 2001; Damasio, 1999).

Mental imagery interventions have been helpful in reducing pain (Roffe, Schmidt, & Ernst, 2005; MacIver, Sacco, & Nurmikko, 2011) and at increasing self-regulatory sleep strategies (Loft & Cameron, 2013). In education, learning-disabled children have greatly benefited from vivid mental imagery use in developing associative learning skills (Greeson, 1986). Mental imagery has also been central to sport psychology interventions and research for over 50 years (e.g. Smith, 1991), and findings from this literature offer a strong empirical foundation for furthering our understanding of mental imagery as a tool to increase vividness of future self. For example, a study by Callow, Rob- erts, and Fawkes (2006) has demonstrated that downhill skiers who imagined themselves completing a downhill ski-slalom course experienced increases in vividness of imagery. Extending these findings, research by Nobbe, Nilsen, and Gillen (2012) has highlighted that participants who used mental imagery twice per week for six consecutive weeks demonstrated a 22 per cent increase in imagery vividness.

Of particular interest, Johnson, Cushman, Borden, and McCune (2013) have demonstrated that a person is likely to feel an increased connection to others following a mental imagery manipulation. Results of this study demon- strate that participants who generated highly vivid images of a fictional narra- tive reported higher empathy for the story�s characters and were more likely to adopt pro-social behaviours. Complementary to these findings, a study by Cialdini, Brown, Lewis, Luce, and Neuberg (1997) revealed that participants who felt more empathic concern also experienced greater self–other overlap. In fact, participants who reported higher empathy felt an increased sense of “oneness” such that experiencing another�s emotions led participants to incor- porate their sense of self within the boundaries of the other.

This literature directly supports the claim that vivid mental images foster a sense of connection to others by facilitating access to another�s emotional states. Since future self can be perceived as an “other” (Sirois & Pychyl, 2013; Blouin-Hudon & Pychyl, 2015), mental imagery can enable present self to reg- ulate behaviours within a broader cognitive-affective scope across subjective time and increase future self-continuity.

Interestingly, the perspective with which a person imagines himself or herself has an important influence on the affective intensity induced by a mental image. For example, imagining events from a first-person perspective evokes strong emotions about the concrete features of a situation and fosters a phe- nomenological sense of uniqueness (Moore & Barresi, 2013). In contrast, third-person imagery reduces the emotional impact of an imagined future event or self (e.g. Holmes & Mathews, 2010; Sutin & Robins, 2010). Further- more, research by Libby and Eibach (2011) has found that imagining from a third-person perspective leads people to integrate pictured events with a more

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general self-knowledge. As such, experiencing future self�s emotional reactions to specific events (such as the end of the academic semester) through first- person imagery, while also conceptualising the broad emotional impact of a sit- uation on future self�s values and goals through third-person imagery, may both be essential for fostering and maintaining future self-continuity. In turn, these different perspectives allow for a complete and dynamic construction of future self as a reflection of present self and should encourage adaptive decision-making in the present (i.e. less procrastination; Vasquez & Buehler, 2007).

This Study

Since procrastination is partly characterised by a lack of connection to future self (Sirois & Pychyl, 2013; Blouin-Hudon & Pychyl, 2015), we designed a men- tal imagery manipulation aimed at increasing future self-continuity to reduce procrastination. This research is the first to explore ways to decrease the pres- ent and future self gap that partly characterises procrastination. For the experi- mental condition, we designed an audio script depicting future self at the end of the academic semester (about two months from the start of the study), studying for final exams and writing final projects, from a first (“you are inside future self�s body”) and third (“future self is standing a few feet away from you”) person perspective (Kruck, 2002).1 Since this is the first experiment to manipulate self-continuity through mental imagery, we decided to include both perspectives within one condition to increase statistical power. Partici- pants in the control condition were led through a present-focused stress reduc- tion meditation. We chose to compare the mental imagery condition to a stress reduction meditation condition (i.e. a sub-type of mindfulness meditation; Dryden & Still, 2006) since mindfulness (i.e. present awareness, unconditional acceptance; Kabat-Zinn, 1994) has been associated with procrastinators� phys- ical and emotional well-being (Sirois & Tosti, 2012). As such, the meditation condition is a strong comparison to determine whether mental imagery has an effect on procrastination over and above stress-reducing present-moment awareness. All participants were required to listen to their respective audio script twice per week for one month.1

1 The within- and between-person effects for empathic perspective taking and affective empathy for future self were entered in a model alongside vividness of future self to predict future self-continuity. However, results suggested statistical suppression. As such, three separate models were created—one for each predictor. After applying a Bonferroni correction, results indicated that only vividness of future self was a significant predictor of future self-continuity change across time. To save space, we only report the vividness model here, but all other models can be accessed by contacting the first author.

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We hypothesised that participants in the mental imagery condition would feel more connected to their future self, imagine future self more vividly, feel more empathy for that self, and report less procrastination at the four-week mark than participants in the meditation condition. As an exploratory goal, using latent growth curve analyses, we also investigated whether participants in the mental imagery condition would significantly differ from themselves and the meditation condition over time. That is, we explored whether the mental image of future self would become significantly more vivid over time (Callow et al., 2006; Nobbe et al., 2012) for participants in the mental imagery condi- tion. As a consequence, we explored whether these participants would feel more empathy for that self (Johnson et al., 2013) than those in the present- focused meditation condition. In turn, we explored whether participants who experienced greater change in vividness and empathy for future self would experience more future self-continuity and report less procrastination over time.

METHOD

Participants

Participants were enrolled at a large research intensive Canadian university. Participants were awarded a 4 per cent bonus for their psychology or neuro- science introductory course by enrolling in this study. Out of the 231 partici- pants who signed up for this study, 201 completed the Time 0 questionnaire (70% females, 30% males). Participants in this sample were aged between 17 and 42 years old (M 5 21.15, SD 5 4.89) and were mainly enrolled full time (89.3%) in their first (53%), second (27.3%), third (12.1%), and fourth year (7.6%) of study. Of those who completed the Time 0 questionnaire, eight par- ticipants only filled out the demographics section and were therefore removed from the analyses. At Time 0, the final sample included a total of 193 partici- pants who were randomly assigned to the mental imagery (n 5 93) or medita- tion condition (n 5 100). At the two-week mark, a total of 151 participants completed the Time 1 questionnaire (78% retention rate; mental imagery n 5 77; meditation n 5 74; 72% females, 28% males). Finally, a total of 159 par- ticipants completed the Time 2 questionnaire (82% retention rate from Time 0 sample; mental imagery n 5 80; meditation n 5 79; 70% females, 30% males).

Procedure

Participants were sent a link to a Time 0 (baseline) self-report questionnaire battery, which was administered online. Once the Time 0 questionnaire was completed, participants were randomly assigned to either the mental imagery condition or to the meditation condition. After random assignment,

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participants in both conditions were sent two audio files. The first audio file was designed to familiarise participants with the concept of mental imagery and was 2 minutes and 40 seconds in length (Supplementary Material, Appen- dix A). Participants were required to listen to it only once. Along with this practice imagery audio file, participants in the meditation condition were sent a second file, which was 5 minutes and 26 seconds in length and contained a present-focused stress meditation practice (Supplementary Material, Appen- dix B). Participants in the mental imagery condition received an audio file that was 9 minutes and 15 seconds in length, which contained a mental imagery practice designed to prompt an image of future self at the end of the academic semester from a third- and a first-person perspective (Supplementary Material, Appendix C). Participants in both conditions were required to listen to their second audio file (e.g. meditation or mental imagery) twice per week for four consecutive weeks. This timeframe was based on past studies that succeeded in finding an effect of mental imagery on the variable they were exploring (e.g. Menzies, Taylor, & Bourguignon, 2006; MacIver, Lloyd, Kelly, Roberts, & Nurmikko, 2008).

At the same time as they received the audio files, and every subsequent week for the duration of the experiment (i.e. four weeks), participants were sent a small questionnaire asking them to create an implementation intention (Gollwitzer, 1999), listing where and when they planned to listen to their main audio file for the week. This weekly implementation intention was designed to enhance compliance (Supplementary Material, Appendix D). Two days and four days after receiving their weekly implementation intention message, par- ticipants were also sent a short questionnaire asking them to indicate where and when they had actually listened to their main audio file. Participants mainly listened to their audio file in their bedroom and in the evening (Supple- mentary Material, Appendix E).

Two weeks into the experiment, participants were sent the same question- naire battery as at Time 0. This Time 1 questionnaire battery was administered to assess change in empathy, vividness, procrastination behaviour, and future self-continuity halfway through participants� mental imagery or meditation practice. Finally, at the four-week mark, participants were sent a Time 2 ques- tionnaire battery, which contained the exact same measures as the Time 0 and Time 1 questionnaire batteries. This study was approved by the university�s research ethics board.

Measures

Procrastination. Procrastination was assessed using Haghbin�s (2015) Multidimensional Measure of Procrastination (MMoP). The MMoP was developed to measure various aspects of academic procrastination and its asso- ciated emotions and cognitions. In this study, items related to the behaviour

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section were used (e.g. “I plan to work on academic tasks ahead of time, but when the time comes, I needlessly postpone the tasks”). All items were rated on a 1 (never) to 6 (always) scale. This measure had excellent levels of internal con- sistency for this study at all three time points (Time 0 a 5 .97, Time 1 a 5 .97, Time 2 a 5 .98). The MMoP and this behavioural subscale has demonstrated strong validity for the measurement of academic procrastination (Haghbin, 2015).

Future Self-Continuity. How connected participants felt to their future self at the end of the semester was assessed using Ersner-Hershfield, Garton, Ballard, Samanez-Larking, and Knutson�s (2009a) Future Self-Continuity Scale. Future self-continuity was measured by one item on a 7-point scale marked at each point by two circles that ranged from depicting no overlap to depicting almost complete overlap. This item was rated on a scale ranging from 1 (not similar/connected at all) to 7 (completely similar/connected). Higher scores were judged to indicate more continuity with one�s future self. The test– retest reliability for the present scale was good across all three time points (a 5 .76).

Affective Empathy for Future Self. Affective empathy experienced towards future self was assessed using a modification of Batson, Early, and Sal- varani�s (1997) Affective Empathy Scale. We included a subscale of the six empathy index items and omitted the distress index. Participants were asked to “Please close your eyes and imagine your future self at the end of the academic semester. Rate how much you have experienced each emotion when thinking of your future self at the end of the academic semester” on a scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 7 (extremely). The empathy index demonstrated very good inter- nal consistency in this study at Time 0 (a 5 .92), Time 1 (a 5 .94), and Time 2 (a 5 .94).

Vividness of Future Self. Based on Marks� (1973, 1987) Vividness of Imagery Questionnaire, participants were asked to “Please close your eyes and imagine your future self at the end of the academic semester. Rate the vividness of the visual image, touch, smell, and sound of your future self at the end of the academic semester.” This item was rated on a scale ranging from 1 (No image at all, you only “know” that you are thinking of you future self) to 5 (Perfectly clear and as vivid as normal vision, smell, taste, touch, and/or hearing). This item demonstrated good test–retest reliability across all three time points (a 5 .72).

Control Measures

Trait Vividness of Imagery. Marks� (1973, 1987) Vividness of Imagery Questionnaire was used to assess participants� natural ability to form vivid

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visual mental images. Scores were used to statistically control for this disposi- tion in order to isolate the variance of change in mental imagery vividness that was due to the experimental manipulation. Participants were asked to rate items on a scale ranging from 1 (No image at all, you only “know” that you are thinking of the object) to 5 (Perfectly clear and as vivid as normal vision). For the purposes of this study, the numerical values on the 5-point rating scale initially proposed by Marks (1973) were reversed so that higher ratings represent greater vividness (McKelvie, 1995). The internal consistency of this scale was very good in this study at Time 0 (a 5 .92), Time 1 (a 5 .94), and Time 2 (a 5 .95).

Trait Empathy. Trait empathy was assessed using the Interpersonal Reac- tivity Index (Davis, 1980). Based on evidence that trait empathy encompasses both cognitive and emotional dimensions (e.g. Davis, 1983), we chose to use the empathetic concern (total of seven items) and perspective-taking subscales (total of seven items) of the full measure. These subscales were used to control for individual differences in this disposition (e.g. both cognitive and emotional dimensions). Items were rated on a scale ranging from 1 (not well at all) to 5 (extremely well). The empathic concern subscale demonstrated good internal consistency in this study at Time 0 (a 5 .78), Time 1 (a 5 .79), and Time 2 (a 5 .78). Similarly, the perspective-taking subscale demonstrated good inter- nal consistency at Time 0 (a 5 .77), Time 1 (a 5 .81), and Time 2 (a 5 .81).

RESULTS

Statistical Analyses

All statistical analyses were completed using the SPSS version 22 and SAS ver- sion 9.3 statistical packages. First, we used hierarchical regression to determine mean differences between the mental imagery and meditation conditions at Time 2, while controlling for Time 0 differences. Second, we used latent growth analyses to explore why and who experienced change in future self-continuity and procrastination over time.

Four-Week Mark

Time 0 future self-continuity was entered in the first step of a hierarchical lin- ear regression predicting Time 2 future self-continuity to control for possible baseline differences between conditions. The contrast-coded condition variable (mental imagery 5.5, meditation 5 2.5) was entered in a second step. Results revealed that participants in the mental imagery condition had a future self- continuity mean at Time 2 that was significantly higher than those in the medi- tation condition (see Table 1).

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A series of hierarchical linear regressions was conducted in the same fashion to predict vividness of future self, affective empathy for future self, empathic perspective taking, and procrastination at Time 2 (see Table 1). Only the hier- archical linear regression predicting Time 2 empathic perspective taking dem- onstrated that participants in the mental imagery condition had a significantly higher mean than those in the meditation condition. These results indicate that the experimental manipulation increased empathic perspective taking, a cogni- tive component of empathy. This was surprising because empathic perspective taking was included in the study as a control variable and was expected to stay

TABLE 1 Unstandardised Regression Coefficients (Standard Error), 95% CI, and Effect Sizes for Condition (Cond) and Time 0 Covariates Predicting Time 2 Variables

B(SE) p Lower bound

Upper bound

Step 1 R2

Step 2 DR2

Time 2 outcome

Time 0 Constant 3.9(.26) .000 3.40 4.44 Future self-continuity .33(.05) .000 .22 .43 .19** – Future

self-continuity Condition 2.35(.16) .038 – .02* Constant 3.02(.17) .000 2.7 3.36 Vividness of future self .27(.05) .000 .17 .37 .15** – Vividness of

future self Condition 2.12(.12) .323 – .98 Constant 1.92(.28) .000 1.35 2.50 Affective empathy

for future self .64(.06) .000 .51 .77 .39** – Affective empathy

for future self Condition 2.20(.19) .283 – .00 Constant 1.07(.20) .000 .70 1.44 Empathic

perspective taking .74(.05) .000 .64 .85 .58** – Empathic

perspective taking

Condition 2.23(.07) .002 – .03* Constant .72(.16) .000 .41 1.04 Procrastination .70(.05) .000 .60 .80 .54** – Procrastination Condition .08(.10) .447 – .00 Time 2 Constant 3.75 .000 2.92 4.60 Future self continuity 2.13(.08) .022 2.34 2.03 .04* – Procrastination Condition 2.61(.80) .769 – – Future self

continuity*Condition .10(.14) .467 2.17 .37 – .00

Note: Condition 5 mental imagery contrast-coded .5 and meditation contrast-coded 2.5 (Condition repre- sents mean difference between conditions). *p< .05; ** p< .01.

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fairly stable over time for all participants. See Supplementary Material, Appen- dix F, Table S1 for means, standard deviations, and Cohen�s d for these variables.

To determine whether future self-continuity significantly negatively predicted procrastination at the four-week mark, Time 2 future self-continuity and the contrast-coded condition variable were entered in the first step of a hierarchical linear regression, while the interaction between Time 2 future self-continuity and the condition variable was entered in the second step. Results showed that the main effect of Time 2 future self-continuity significantly predicted decreases in Time 2 procrastination (see Table 1). These results offer evidence for the idea that people who feel more connected to their future self at the end of the semes- ter also procrastinate less. Unfortunately, the interaction between the condition variable and Time 2 future self-continuity was not significant.

Exploratory Analyses: Change across Time by Condition

We adopted latent growth analyses to explore why and who experienced change during the one-month period (Figure 1). To do this, the contrast-coded condition variable was entered in the models predicting vividness of future self (Table 2, model A), affective empathy for future self (Table 2, model B), future

FIGURE 1. Visual overview of hypothesised paths and statistical analyses.

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self-continuity (Table 3, model B), and procrastination (Table 4, model B) as a time-invariant covariate.

For these models, there were no baseline differences based on condition. Results demonstrated that participants in both conditions experienced a very similar rate of change across time such that as the end of term neared, partici- pants felt more connected to the future self at the end of the semester. Partici- pants in both conditions also experienced similar upward changes in vividness of future self, affective empathy for future self, and significant reductions in procrastination.

Interestingly again, results indicated a significant difference in the rate of change for empathic perspective taking by condition (Table 2, model C). Prob- ing of this interaction revealed that participants in the mental imagery condi- tion experienced a steeper upward rate of change in empathic perspective taking than those in the meditation condition (Figure 2). In fact, participants in the meditation condition did not experience significant change across time in empathic perspective taking.

Vividness as Predictor of Change in Future Self-Continuity. Although empathic perspective taking was included in the study as a control variable, the results summarised in Table 1, Table 2 (model C), and Figure 2 made us realise that empathic perspective taking may be more important than initially antici- pated, and so we explored this further. To explore whether change in future self-

TABLE 2 Parameter Estimates (Standard Error) for Change across Time by Condition for Vividness of Future Self (Model A), Affective Empathy for Future Self (Model B),

and Empathic Perspective Taking (Model C)

Parameter Model A Model B Model C

Fixed effects Intercept 3.08(.08)*** 4.20(.11)*** 3.53(.05)*** Level 1 (time-variant) Time .40(.04)*** .22(.05)*** .08(.02)*** Level 2 (time-invariant) Condition 2.12(.16) 2.05(.22) 2.15(.10) Cross-level interactions Time/Condition 2.02(.09) 2.11(.10) 2.09(.04)*

Random parameters Level 1 Intercept (s00) .90(.14)*** 2.00(.25)*** .36(.05)*** Time (s11) .11(.05)** .14(.06)** .00(.01) Time/Intercept (s10) 2.26(.07)*** 2.12(.09) 2.00(.01) Residuals (r2) .46(.05)*** .54(.06)*** .11(.01)***

Note: Condition 5 mental imagery contrast-coded .5 and meditation contrast-coded 2.5.

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continuity could be predicted by vividness, affective empathy for future self, and empathic perspective taking, we began by creating a first unconditional model with a fixed slope for time (Table 3, model A). For this model, the interclass corre- lation (ICC) indicated that 49.2 per cent of the total variability in future self- continuity was found between persons (level-2). Therefore, we created a new model incorporating the within- and between-person decomposition of vividness of future self, its interaction with time, the contrast-coded condition variable, and the random terms for the intercept and time (Table 3, model B).

Results indicate that participants who were randomly assigned to either the mental imagery or to the meditation condition did not differ on future self- continuity at baseline and experienced similar rates of change across time.

TABLE 3 Parameter Estimates (Standard Error) and Significance Estimates for Vividness

of Future Self Predicting Future Self-Continuity

Parameter Model A Model B

Fixed effects

Intercept 4.70(.94)*** 4.42(.33)*** Level 1 (time-variant) Time .43(.05)*** .25(.06)*** Future self vividness (person-centred) .19(.12) Level 2 (time-invariant) Condition 2.27(.13)* Vividness of future self (mean-centred) .58(.11)*** Vividness of mental imagery .03(.08) Cross-level interactions Time/Vividness of future self (mean-centred) .10(.06) Time/Vividness of future self (person centred) .22(.09)* Condition/Vividness of future self (mean centred) 2.00(.16) Condition/Vividness of future self (person centred) .02(.14)

Random parameters Level 1 Intercept (s00) 1.00(.13)*** 1.30(.21)*** Time (s11) .20(.08)** Vividness of future self (person centred; s22) .26(.11)** Time/Intercept (s10) 2.40(.11)*** Vividness of future self (person centred)/Intercept (s20) 2.09(.07) Time/Vividness of future self (person-centred; s12) 2.09(.07) Residuals (r2) .93(.07)*** .52(.08)***

Note: Condition 5 mental imagery contrast-coded .5 and meditation contrast-coded 2.5. Model A is uncon- ditional (no predictors) and TIME is fixed. TIME is left to vary randomly in Model B. Model B contains all time-variant (level-1) and time-invariant (level-2) predictors of future self-continuity and their interactions. Vividness of future self (person centred) is left to vary randomly.

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Importantly, the interaction between time and the within-person effect for viv- idness of future self was significant. Probing of this interaction revealed that participants who experienced higher vividness of future self at each time point also experienced a steeper rate of change in future self-continuity across time (Figure 3).

For model B, the predictors explained 46.9 per cent of the variance in future self-continuity at level 1. As such, vividness of future self accounts for the within- person variance in future self-continuity by explaining how participants came to feel more connected to future self at each time point; because that self became more vivid from what a participant had experienced at a previous time point.

TABLE 4 Parameter Estimates (Standard Error) and Significance Estimates for Future Self-

Continuity and Empathic Perspective Taking Predicting Procrastination

Parameter Model A Model B

Fixed effects

Intercept 2.96(.07)*** 3.00(.07)*** Level 1 (time-variant) Time 2.09(.02)*** 2.09(.03)** Future self-continuity (person-centred) 2.03(.04) Empathic perspective taking (person-centred) .48(.15)*** Level 2 (time-invariant) Condition 2.16(.14) Future self-continuity (mean-centred) 2.23(.11)* Empathic perspective taking (mean-centred) 2.22(.06)*** Cross-level interactions Time/Condition .03(.06) Time/Future self-continuity (mean-centred) .03(.02) Time/Empathic perspective taking (mean-centred) 2.05(.04) Time/Future self-continuity (person-centred) 2.02(.04) Time/Empathic perspective taking (person-centred) 2.27(.13)* Condition/Future self-continuity (mean-centred) .02(.12) Condition/Empathic perspective taking (mean-centred) .03(.21) Condition/Future self-continuity (person-centred) 2.02(.05) Condition/Empathic perspective taking (person-centred) .12(.16)

Random parameters Level 1 Intercept (s00) .75(.08)*** .76(.10)*** Time (s11) .02(.01) Time/Intercept (s10) 2.03(.03) Residuals (r2) .21(.01)*** .17(.02)***

Note: Condition 5 mental imagery contrast-coded .5 and meditation contrast-coded 2.5. Model A is uncon- ditional (no predictors) and TIME is fixed. TIME is left to vary randomly in Model B. Model B contains all time-variant (level-1) and time-invariant (level-2) predictors of procrastination and their interactions.

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FIGURE 2. Empathic perspective taking change over time for the mental imagery and meditation conditions.

FIGURE 3. Future self-continuity change across time for high and low vividness of future self.

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Mediators of Vividness on Future Self-Continuity. Since affective empa- thy for future self and empathic perspective taking were not significant moder- ators of growth in future self-continuity over time (Table 3), these variables may be better conceptualised as mediators of the relation between vividness of future self and future self-continuity. To explore this possibility, we created a mediation model, using Hayes and Preacher�s (2014) MEDIATE macro for SPSS, to explore whether affective empathy for future self and empathic per- spective taking could mediate the relation between vividness of future self and future self-continuity. Empathic concern and trait vividness of imagery were entered as covariates, Time 0 vividness of future self was entered as a predictor of Time 2 future self-continuity, while Time 1 affective empathy for future self and empathic perspective taking were included as mediators.

Results demonstrate that Time 1 affective empathy for future self was the only significant partial mediator of Time 0 vividness of future self on Time 2 future self-continuity, while controlling for Time 0 empathic concern and trait vividness of imagery (Figure 4). Specifically, the total effect between Time 0 vividness of future self and Time 2 future self-continuity was slightly reduced

FIGURE 4. Mediation of the relation between Time 0 vividness of future self and Time 2 future self-continuity through Time 1 affective empathy for future self and Time 1 empathic perspective taking. Time 0 vividness of mental imagery and Time 0 empathic concern are covariates of Time 1 affective empathy for future self and Time 1 empathic perspective taking. * p< .05; ** p< .01.

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once the mediators were included in the model, but the direct effect was still significant. Furthermore, the indirect effect associated with Time 1 affective empathy for future self remained significant, but small. Because this is an initial exploratory investigation, we did not make any causal inferences regarding this model.

Exploratory Analyses: Predictors of Change in Procrastination across Time

Since it did not have a direct or indirect influence on future self-continuity, empathic perspective taking was decomposed into within- and between-person components and entered in a model alongside the decomposed effects for future self-continuity, along with their interactions with time and condition. Lastly, the intercept and the slope for time were left to vary randomly. The unconditional model for procrastination is represented in Table 4, model A. The ICC for the unconditional model indicates that 79.3 per cent of the vari- ability in procrastination is found between person (level-2).

For Table 4, model B, all participants followed an average fixed rate of change in procrastination across time. Only the within-person component of empathic perspective taking significantly interacted with time (there was,

FIGURE 5. Procrastination change over time for high and low empathic perspective taking.

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unfortunately, no such significant effect for future self-continuity). Probing of the significant interaction revealed that participants who experienced higher empathic perspective taking at each time point also experienced greater decreases in procrastination, while participants who experienced lower increases in empathic perspective taking at each time point did not experience any significant decreases in procrastination (Figure 5).

The proportion of variance in model C explained at level 1 was 18.4 per cent. As previously mentioned, the ICC indicated that almost 80 per cent of the variance in procrastination was found at level 2. Taken together, these results indicate that the sample as a whole experienced average decreases in procrastination over time. As such, the predictors entered in Model C were suc- cessful at informing how participants varied from their own fixed rate of change over time—which is important in and of itself—but were not successful at explaining why participants followed this fixed rate of change, which is where the bulk of the variance in procrastination seems to lie.

GENERAL DISCUSSION

The purpose of this research was to explore how fostering a vivid and empathic connection to future self through mental imagery may allow a person to regu- late present behaviour within a broader cognitive-affective scope and, as such, reduce procrastination. That is, procrastinators have a higher likelihood of per- ceiving future self than they do a stranger and, as a result, can easily disregard the negative consequences of their present actions on future self (e.g. Sirois & Pychyl, 2013; Blouin-Hudon & Pychyl, 2015). A well-documented finding from the mental imagery literature indicates that people who are able to create vivid mental images also experience enhanced affective states regarding these images (Sheikh & Kunzendorf, 1984; Kosslyn et al., 2001; Damasio, 1999; Holmes, Mathews, Dalgleish, & Mackintosh, 2006; Holmes, Coughtrey, & Connor, 2008; Blair, Ma, & Lenton, 2001). Guided by this evidence, we hypothesised that by consistently imagining future self in a multi-perspective way, participants subjected to the mental imagery condition would experience greater increases in vividness of future self, empathy for future self, and future self-continuity, and as a consequence, report less procrastination.

What Could Explain Differences and Similarities across Conditions?

Participants in the mental imagery condition experienced a significantly greater connection to future self at the four-week mark. However, the experi- ment was not successful at empirically teasing out why participants in the men- tal imagery condition felt more connected to future self than participants in the meditation condition. As demonstrated in the latent growth curve analyses,

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participants in both conditions demonstrated the same rate of change in future self-continuity, vividness of future self, and affective empathy for future self over time. Furthermore, affective empathy for future self was a significant par- tial mediator of the relation of vividness and future self-continuity for the sam- ple as a whole.

A plausible explanation for these results is that participants in the medita- tion condition experienced increases in cognitive flexibility (Carson & Langer, 2006; Moore & Malinowski, 2009), which involves the ability to vividly experi- ence different aspects of an idea or image (e.g. Ca~nas, Quesada, Antol�ı, & Fajardo, 2003; Eslinger & Grattan, 1993; Kim, Johnson, & Gold, 2012). Results of this study demonstrate that vividness of mental imagery plays a very important role in fostering a connection to future self. As such, an increase in vivid mental imagery due to heightened cognitive flexibility could explain why participants in the meditation condition also experienced change in affective empathy and future self-continuity over time.

Lastly, participants in the mental imagery condition directly focused their imagination on future self at the end of the semester. As such, the idea that par- ticipants in the meditation condition experienced increases in mental flexibility, but that their imagination was not guided to connect to future self specifically, could explain why participants in the mental imagery condition felt more con- nected to future self at the four-week mark.

Empathic Perspective Taking

Results revealed that participants in the mental imagery condition developed greater empathic perspective taking over and above the meditation condition both across time and at the four-week mark. The effect of empathic perspective taking was twofold. On the one hand, being able to put oneself in another per- son�s shoes influenced a greater decrease in procrastination over time. On the other hand, empathic perspective taking had no significant influence on future self-continuity, as did affective empathy.

One important feature of empathic perspective taking is the ability to let go of egocentric biases (i.e. perspectives, affective states, beliefs) in order to under- stand and adopt another person�s outlook on different situations—a cognitive process also known as theory-of-mind (Van Boven & Loewenstein, 2005). It may be that imagining future self through multiple perspectives allowed partic- ipants in the mental imagery condition to clearly see what that self might be going through at the end of the semester, which improved participants� per- spective taking accuracy. However, future research looking at each imagery perspective separately is needed to determine the tenability of this interpretation.

Understanding the association between empathic perspective taking and procrastination under these terms can also shed light on its association with

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future self-continuity. Specifically, empathy is a complex and multidimensional construct that involves an affective response and emotional overlap with another person, a cognitive aspect characterised by adopting the perspective of another, and the ability to monitor one�s own emotions to dissociate self from the other (e.g. Batson, 1991; Decety & Jackson, 2004; Ickes, 1997). In this case, what may be inhibiting a person who has greater abilities in perspective taking from connecting to future self may be this third component of empathy. When adopting the perspective of another—or of future self—the self–other overlap is partial so as to allow a person to differentiate his or her own present sense of self from the other. Interestingly, research supporting this has demonstrated that certain areas of the brain associated with one�s sense of agency and self- identification are activated when thinking from another person�s perspective. Although this egocentric function of empathy is clearly adaptive for keeping the self distinct from the other (i.e. whose feelings belong to whom; Decety & Jackson, 2004), results of this research suggest that it may be less beneficial for connecting to future self.

Ultimately, we must conclude that forging a vivid and emotional connection to future self at the end of the semester may not have as much of an influence on procrastination as previously thought. Although this is not what we were expecting to find, perceiving future self from a cognitive perspective seems to be the most effective at increasing an altruistic motivation towards that self, mainly by procrastinating less in the present.

Limitations and Future Research

This exploratory research has shed some light on the role of the temporally extended self in relation to procrastination and, importantly, on the cognitive and affective processes that can be manipulated—using one�s imagination—to forge an emotional connection to and adopt a more cognitive perspective of future self at the end of the academic semester. Nonetheless, this research has shortcomings that need to be taken into account and improved upon in future studies.

First, including follow-up assessments would be extremely useful to deter- mine how long the observed effects last post-experiment. Second, although including a meditation practice revealed important findings on how meditation can relate to future self-continuity and procrastination, the effects observed in this study nonetheless need to be tested against the naturally occurring associa- tions of these constructs across time. We believe that having an alternative con- trol group (i.e. a group that did nothing) would have increased power to determine why participants differed from each other in their procrastination behaviour across time. Furthermore, the audio recordings for the experimental and control conditions were not of equal length. Given the significant influence of the meditation condition in our study, this limitation to our research design

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should be corrected in future research to better understand the possible influ- ence of meditation on future self-continuity and procrastination. Since we did not expect to find significant effects with empathic perspective taking, as we were solely focused on exploring the emotional connection between present and future self, we did not have a measure of empathic perspective taking prompted for future self specifically like we did with affective empathy. To understand the association of empathic perspective taking with future self- continuity and procrastination, such a measure should also be included in future research designs.

Since all of the variability in future self-continuity was explained within- person, it is clear that more research should be conducted to clearly dissociate how mindfulness meditation relates to vividness of mental imagery and affec- tive empathy in order to explain why individuals differed from others across time. Do affective empathy and empathic perspective taking operate similarly with future self-continuity when stemming from mindfulness as they do with future self-specific mental imagery? Does a first-person perspective foster mostly affective empathy? Does a third-person perspective foster mostly empathic perspective taking? Results of this research seem to point to these answers, but these should be tested with a research design specifically tailored to these questions. This can be achieved with a design involving four groups: meditation, first-person mental imagery, third-person mental imagery, and control. Future research could also compare the imagine future self-condition with an imagine-other condition to determine how these influence connection, vividness, and empathy. Ultimately, research has yet to determine whether empathic processes as understood from self–other overlaps should be re- conceptualised when exploring the connection between present and future selves, or if this imaginary, intrapersonal relationship truly does rest on inter- personal empathic processes (e.g. Davis, 1980; Batson, 1991).

Implications

While past correlational research has demonstrated a link between procrasti- nation and temporal self-discontinuities (i.e. Sirois & Pychyl, 2013; Blouin-Hudon & Pychyl, 2015), interventions aimed at reducing this self- defeating behaviour mostly focus on present-oriented cognitive-behavioural techniques (e.g. Dryden, 2012), cognitive-motivational techniques (e.g. Pychyl & Binder, 2004), or self-efficacy focus groups (e.g. Wang, Qian, Wang, & Chen, 2011). As such, this research is the first to explore ways to decrease the present and future self gap that partly characterises procrastination.

Although more work has to be done before a mental imagery practice should be considered for procrastination intervention, findings from this study do suggest that a programme designed to develop one�s ability to imagine future self under a more cognitive perspective could generate great interest in

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many different applied domains such as retirement, work, environmental behaviour, and health. For example, financial companies have directly applied Hershfield and colleagues� (Hershfield, Goldstein, Sharpe, Fox, Yeykelis, Carstensen, & Bailenson, 2011b) findings on digital ageing and future self- continuity to increase the success of their programmes and help individuals make financial decisions that will benefit them for retirement (e.g. McAuley, 2015). Programmes could also be designed to help individuals more vividly imagine the legacy they want their future selves to leave behind, which has been linked to greater pro-environmental behaviour (Zaval, Markowitz, & Weber, 2015). Accordingly, the present research has the potential to offer a rel- atively low-cost and universal method to increase adaptive temporal decision- making by exploring how to develop individuals� imagination of their future self directly.

More broadly speaking, the present research offers important insight into the psychological underpinnings of the imagination. Our results suggest that vivid mental images are very important for fostering affective empathy and for extending the self into the future. In turn, affective empathy and empathic per- spective taking can have very different outcomes for one�s connection to future self and, ultimately, on whether a person considers that self�s well-being when making present decisions.

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