​Back to the future technology spurs adults to save for retirement

LOS ANGELES -- Young people don't think much about retirement. Two out of five don't think about it at all, according to a survey of adults under 30.

That apathy caught the attention of 35-year-old psychologist Hal Hershfield, a professor at UCLA's Anderson School of Management. Hershfield wondered whether Americans might save more if they literally faced the future.

"So we thought is there any way we can have people sit down and have a conversation with future selves to make that future self more vivid to them?" said Hershfield.

In a study started at Stanford University, researchers put people in a virtual reality room where they confronted an older self -- aged by computer -- in the mirror.

"The age progression algorithm basically mimics the processes of aging," said Hershfield. "It sags the cheeks a little bit, it adds a little bit more fatty tissue under the eyes."

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An age progression of actress Angelina Jolie

To encourage saving, Merrill Edge has started using a similar algorithm on its website. The conclusion? It works.

"There is an impact," said Hershfield. "In one of the studies we found people who were exposed to images of future selves allocated about twice as much money to a hypothetical saving account."

Hershfield believes the time-traveling encounter could help people think more about their diets and health too.

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An age progression Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

"It allows people to say okay there is this future version of me and that person is going to benefit or suffer from the choices that I make today," said Hershfield.

Our choices change, it seems, when the future is right in front of us.

  • Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"