Methods: In five experiments, we demonstrate that a variety of subtle cues can create the sense that the future self is connected from the present self, increasing current engagement with school. In experiment 1, elementary school children were randomly assigned to a no temporal anchor control condition or to one of two experimental conditions in which temporal anchor was set as ‘near' or ‘far'. In experiment 2, children were randomly assigned to imagine their future self as adult in one of two ways, either just like the control condition in experiment 1, or in a vivid future priming condition in which they were also asked to explain why they wanted that future self. In both studies, school engagement operationalized as performance on a subsequent math task. In experiments 3-5, students were randomly assigned to a context manipulation (school as a secure or a risky context) and to a future self focus manipulation (students were asked to imagine either positive, desired aspects of their future self or negative, undesired aspects of their future self. School engagement was operationalized as the number of school-focused activities students planned to do, how much they planned to study, and when they planned to start studying for finals.
Results: Across the studies, students were significantly more engaged with school when primed to perceive their future self as connected-to, rather than disconnected from their current self.
Conclusions and Implications: In risky school contexts, students are more likely to engage in current action to attain their future self when they consider futures in which they have failed to attain their goals. In secure contexts, positive future images serve this role. Across contexts, considering the future as near, rather than far, increases students' engagement with school tasks. These experiments help explain the positive effects of the School-to-Jobs intervention which used these techniques and demonstrated positive results in a two-year follow-up.