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The Future Is Now: Reducing Impulsivity and Energy Intake Using Episodic Future Thinking

Psychology, Sustainability, impulsive


Humans have the ability to engage in prospective imaginary to anticipate the future consequences of present behaviors (Suddendorf & Busby, 2005), but we often let our desire for immediate gratification lead us to devalue larger future consequences in favor of smaller immediate rewards. Discounting large future rewards in favor of smaller immediate rewards is known as delay discounting and increases with greater temporal distance between the rewards (Bickel & Marsch, 2001). One approach to reducing delay discounting is episodic future thinking (Atance & O’Neill, 2001). Episodic future thinking engages the episodic memory in prospectively experiencing future events (Atance & O’Neill, 2001; Schacter, Addis, & Buckner, 2007) and activates brain regions involved in prospective thinking (Benoit, Gilbert, &
Burgess, 2011; Schacter et al., 2007). Episodic future thinking during intertemporal decision making reduces delay discounting, with the vividness of prospective imagery predicting the degree of the reduction (Peters & Büchel, 2010).

The inability to delay gratification is related to obesity (Davis, Patte, Curtis, & Reid, 2010; Francis & Susman, 2009; Weller, Cook, Avsar, & Cox, 2008). Delay discounting predicts intake of energy-dense convenience foods in obese women (Appelhans et al., 2012), and poor impulse control predicts a lack of success in weight loss (Best et al., 2012). To determine episodic future thinking’s effect on impulsive behavior, we assessed whether episodic future thinking, compared with engagement in a control imagery task, reduced impulsivity and energy intake in overweight and obese individuals.

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