We’ve all done it—made impulsive decisions. Decisions that favor immediate rewards in lieu of future benefits. Maybe it was eating half a bag of chips on the car ride home from the grocery store, an act that provides instant satisfaction but pushes us a little farther away from our weight loss goals, or something else. At one point or another, we’ve all been guilty of discounting future pay-offs for immediate gratification. So, what do we do about it? A paper published a few weeks ago in the journal Psychological Science provides some clues.
Noticing that an inability to delay gratification is associated with being overweight and even obese, a group of researchers at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine wondered whether a simple technique designed to get people to think about the future might help lesson people’s tendency to engage in behaviors that lead to immediate gratification—like eating an entire pizza at one sitting. So, they set out to test their hypothesis.
The researchers invited overweight or obese women (a body mass index of 25 or greater; who were interested in controlling their food intake) to take part in an exercise in which they either listed possible positive future events that might occur (a future thinking group) or thought about an event that occurred recently to someone else (control group). Women were randomly assigned to one of these two conditions. The researchers recorded people’s reports of the events on an audio recorder.