Future-oriented thinking

Decisions, future
The dissertation sheds light on the constructive potential that lies in future-oriented thinking. Photo: Pixabay.com
PhD Defense

11 August 2017 15:34

Future-oriented thinking

On Wednesday 23 August 2017 Hallgeir Sjåstad will hold a trial lecture on a prescribed topic and defend his thesis for the PhD degree at NHH.

Prescribed topic for the trial lecture:

«How can the framework of pragmatic prospection contribute to our understanding of buying behavior and how can theories of buying and consumption behavior contribute to pragmatic prospection theory?»

Trial lecture:

1015 in the Jebsen Center, NHH

Title of the thesis:

«The psychology of prospection.Experimental studies on the nature of future-oriented thinking»


Future-orientation is strong predictor for achievement, health, and happiness in life. Indeed, the central topic in this doctoral dissertation is the psychology of “prospection” – that is, how and why people think about the future. While dominant theories in the history of psychology focus on the past, recent theory and research programs have shifted this focus to the study of future-orientation (Seligman, Railton, Baumeister, & Sripada, 2013; Baumeister, Vohs, & Oettingen, 2016). People are not solely driven by their history and the immediate environment; they are also navigating into the future through the choices they make. In this dissertation, Sjåstad explore the nature of future-oriented thinking in three empirical articles (total N = 2028). This line of work is based on experimental research methods, where the central hypothesis in each article is tested in a series of studies that combine different samples (Norwegian and American) across multiple settings (lab, field, online).

Hallgeir Sjåstad
PhD Candidate Hallgeir Sjåstad

The first article examines the effect of a future-oriented time perspective on moral self-judgment across four studies (N =915). In line with the hypothesis, the central finding was that people assigned more moral responsibility to themselves for their future actions than their past actions. This included reporting that they should receive more blame and punishment for future misdeeds than for past ones, and more credit and reward for future good deeds than for past ones.

The second article tests the hypothesis that the willingness to plan is linked to good self-control across three studies (N = 423). Indeed, a correlational study found that trait self-control was positively correlated with planning, meaning that people with high self-control made more plans than people with low self-control. Furthermore, two experiments altered participants’ capacity to exert self-control via an experimental procedure, and showed that participants with low self-control resources became less willing to make plans than well-rested participants in the control condition.

The third article explores the following research question: After an initial failure, will the anticipated value of a future success tend to increase (greener grass) or decrease (sour grapes)? Across five studies (N = 690), the results strongly supported the sour-grape hypothesis. Participants who received poor feedback on the practice trial of a cognitive test predicted that they would feel less happy after a future top performance than those who received good feedback. However, when all participants received a top score on the actual test they became equally happy.That is, experiencing initial failure made people devalue and underestimate how good it would feel to succeed in the future. What people think they want is based on more than just the desirability of the goal; it also depends on whether the goal seems to be within reach.

Seen as a whole, the dissertation sheds light on the constructive potential that lies in future-oriented thinking, with respect to moral responsibility (Article 1), but also the psychological barriers that might hinder people from thinking about or valuing the future in the first place, such as limited self-control (Article 2) and negative performance expectations (Article 3).

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