MeIn the late summer of 1978, tensions rose between then-Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. For nearly his two weeks, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his numerous advisers struggled to help their leaders reach an agreement that would end the decades-long feud between the two countries. An important meeting at Camp David appeared to crumble under the weight of the conflict, as Begin reportedly called off negotiations and asked President Carter to call him a car.
As Begin packed up and left open the possibility of de-escalating tensions in the region, President Carter brought out eight photos of the three leaders together. On each he wrote the name of one of Begin’s grandchildren and a note about his own hopes for peace in the future.
Looking through these inscriptions changed Begin’s expression. He “put down his bag and said, ‘Mr. Begin then agreed to the central point of contention, reaching the Camp David Accords, and a formal treaty has since been signed. .
Mental time travel can help you avoid impulsive choices and opportunistic motives.
What changed in Biggin’s mind at that moment? According to researchers Olga Maria Klimecki-Lenz, Patricia Cernadas Curotto, and their colleagues, Begin has given us an opportunity to think about the future, even if it’s only for a split second, like a change in the weather. It was to redirect his approach. toward cooperation. At least that was their working hypothesis.
Many studies show that thinking about the future can change us intention From planning to save more money for retirement to helping in a theoretical situation to do better.
But do these intentions lead to our change? actionThis is the work of Klimecki-Lenz, a neuroscientist and psychologist and a practicing mediator who has worked with diplomats and heads of state, and Cernadas Curotto, a psychology researcher at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and his colleagues. It was set by a colleague. We answer through a study published earlier this year.1
To explore this theory, they asked study participants to think for one minute about as many things or animals as possible that might happen in the next year. Played a pro-social game. In the game, the player races against the clock to navigate mazes and collect treasures to earn points. On the screen, you can see different “players” taking different paths to different treasures. When obstacles appear in front of the player, the participant has the ability to help other players remove them, but there are no instructions. Helped more often. This suggests that a short mental trip into the future actually makes people behave more generously toward others.
In a world rife with personal and political strife, simple brain teasers like this can be incredibly appealing. I checked with Klimecki-Lenz and Cernadas Curotto for more information.
A recent study asked participants to think about the future for just one minute.And they could think about positive, negative, or neutral things. Can you do such a short mental exercise? TRUE influence our behavior?
Klimek Lenz: I expected it to influence participant behavior, but I wasn’t sure. So when the results came out, we were surprised that the effect was so clear. Yes, our research shows that just one minute of future thinking is enough to promote prosocial behavior.
I believe this is a powerful message for those wishing to provoke prosocial behavior in situations where time is scarce. I know it makes the biggest difference. Thinking about the future is therefore a powerful way to indirectly promote prosocial behavior.
Cernadas Curotto: Further research is needed to confirm our findings and to observe whether these effects persist.
Why Will this kind of future-thinking training induce people to behave more prosocially?
Klimek Lenz: I still don’t know why, but I have some ideas worth testing. A first hint is found in cross-sectional data showing that positive, future-oriented thinking is associated with more prosocial behavior. Therefore, a positive outlook for the future seems to help. We also know from other research that excessive worrying and rumination are often not very productive. At the same time, thinking about the future in general may make your current needs seem less important.
Cernadas Curotto: Some researchers suggest that mental time travel can help us avoid impulsive choices and opportunistic motivations. Previous research has shown that generating mental simulations can promote prosocial intention through mechanisms such as perspective taking.
As a human species, we move forward through cooperation and altruism.
In parallel, both mental simulations (future thinking and perspective acquisition) are proposed to rely on common areas of the brain. Imagining future scenes may therefore recruit these brain regions to facilitate other types of mental simulations, such as viewing other types of mental states.
What do these findings mean when we think about our own interactions and lives?
Klimek Lenz: The more often we think about the future, the more likely we are to help each other. It also means that encouraging others to think about the future can be helpful if you want them to behave more prosocially. increase.
Do you think there is a scale limit to applying this kind of approach to larger social problems and conflicts?
Klimek Lenz: Yes, so far the hypothesis is that thinking about the future within larger social problems and conflicts can lead to more prosocial behavior. Encourage research. We hope that future research will provide insight into when and how future thinking can be applied to promote prosocial behavior in some of the larger social problems and conflicts.
Cernadas Curotto: As this study tested prospective thinking at the inter-individual level, the application of this intervention at the inter-group level requires further research. Nevertheless, future thinking is already being used in important international negotiations, such as the 1978 Camp David Agreement between Egypt and Israel. Therefore, this kind of intervention may help to unfreeze or disarm negotiations in dispute resolution between groups.
If people had a prescription based on what they learned in their research, what would it be?
Cernadas Curotto: We are so lucky to be able to mentally travel through time. This is a skill worth using! Our research shows that future thinking is related to adaptive behaviors such as helping others. We also found preliminary evidence that this association may be extended at the personality trait level. Participants reported more frequent (positive) mental travel (past or future) and also reported more prosocial behavior. So it might be interesting to intentionally spend a few minutes each week or day imagining the future. Because it can strengthen constructive relationships.
What sparked your interest in promoting prosocial behavior? What drew you to this area of research?
Klimek Lenz: As a human species, we move forward through cooperation and altruism. These are the key elements that hold our society together and help us thrive, connect and be creative. There are times when prosocial behavior becomes difficult, such as conflicts and arguments. A key issue for me is planning different interventions to help promote prosocial behavior in different situations.
What do you want to learn next?
Klimek Lenz: We recently worked further in the areas of interpersonal and intergroup conflict to test whether and how long interventions can help facilitate conflict resolution.
Cernadas Curotto: I am very optimistic about short-term and indirect interventions to promote constructive relationships. I’m here.2 He showed that these manipulations can have beneficial effects on people’s empathy levels. We would like to observe whether one is more effective than the other.
Katherine Harmon College is Deputy Editor-in-Chief nautilusFollow her on Twitter @KHCourage.
Lead Image: GoodStudio / Shutterstock
1. Cernadas Curotto, P., Sander, D., d’Argembeau, A., and Klimecki, O. Back to the Future: Methods to Increase Prosocial Behavior. PLoS One 17e0272340 (2022).
2. Weisz, E., Ong, DC, Carlson, RW, & Zaki, J. Building empathy with motivational interventions. emotions twenty one990-999 (2021).