Getting closer to your future to change the present: results from a year-long longitudinal study

  • B. Brandhorst
  • W. Gebhardt
  • P. Norman


Background: Possible selves (PS) are mental representations of the self in the future. Interventions to influence them have been studied primarily in educational/developmental research. In this study we examine the efficacy of the most common PS interventions, in the context of health behavior in first year university students. The present study aimed: 1) to examine whether there is a difference between a text-based, graphic-based or combined intervention in participants' images of possible selves, and 2) whether the interventions affect health behavior in first-year students. Methods: We used a longitudinal design with 7 measurements over the entire academic year. 214 students participated in the baseline measurement. Participants were randomized over 4 conditions (3 experimental + 1 control). For RQ1 we assessed clarity, connectedness, liking, similarity, and caring for PS, as well as frequency of PS-related thought. For RQ2, we measured alcohol consumption, smoking, marihuana use, fruit/vegetable intake, and physical activity. Data were analyzed using repeated measures ANOVA. Expected results: We expect the combined text+graphic condition to be the most effective at influencing participants' image of PS, and that PS elicitation will lead to increased health behavior. We are currently collecting data (waves 5-7). . Discussion: Possible selves offer an appealing and intuitive framework to motivate people to change their behavior in a manner that is congruent with their long-term goals. Our study will hopefully help to identify efficacious methods of influencing the perceived future self. In turn, we expect that this will facilitate health behavior change in a sustainable manner.
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