Different people, different choices. The influence of visual stimuli in communication on pension choice

One of the major challenges for national governments, pension funds, and life/pension insurance companies is to stimulate people to think about their retirement income. For many people, retirement is so far away that it decreases their motivation to acquire relevant information, evaluate different options, or take necessary decisions. This reluctance to consider retirementrelated information can lead to severe problems in the future as pension systems all over the world come under pressure as a result of the current financial crisis and aging of the population. The extent of the problem may be more pronounced in certain segments of the population. For example, research has shown that women are more risk-averse than men.

Recently, Hershfield et al. (2011) proposed an innovative way to make people more future-oriented, namely to age-process their pictures so that they can better visualize themselves at retirement. In our tool, we have applied this method to a mass communication context and have systematically developed different visualizations of retired people using the literature on possible selves. More specifically, we have crafted pictures that reflect “hoped-for” versus “feared-for” future selves in general as well as in a material and social setting. The advantage of using such visualizing stimuli is that they can be used in regular pension communications such as the cover letter of the Uniform Pension Statement (UPO) or in general advertisements. We have also added the slogan “Will your future look like this in approximately the last 30 years of your life?”, a slogan that supports the visuals in stimulating people to think about their future and that is adequate for advertising.

To provide support for our tool, we conducted two pre-tests as well as one pilot study. The results indicate that pictures have the potential to activate possible future selves. The choices that people make may thus differ, depending on the visual stimuli that they are exposed to. Our results as well as earlier work in this area suggest that this avenue is worth future research.

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Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.


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