Images from the Virtual Human Interaction Lab

Images from the Virtual Human Interaction Lab

VIRTUAL SELF, January 2010
Faculty Affiliate Jeremy Bailenson, Professor of Communications, was featured in a recent National Science Foundation (NSF) story for his work in using digital avatars to alter how people view their future selves. With support from NSF, Bailenson created the Virtual Human Interaction Lab to study avatars and their affect on the human “masters.” Bailenson notes, “As a lab, we’ve gone a bit out on a limb and argued that the reason you have an avatar is because an avatar makes you more human than human. It gives you the ability to do things you could never do in the physical world. You can be 10 years younger. You can swap your gender. You can be 30 pounds heavier or lighter. Any behavior or appearance you can imagine, you can transform your avatar to embody.” Sometimes, avatars are designed to be ideal versions of their creators, and there’s now evidence that the virtual reality persona begins to influence the real life persona.

A longevity related example from Bailenson: “I use algorithms to age a 20-year-old undergraduate’s avatar and then I give that undergraduate the opportunity to save money or to spend it frivolously. The undergraduate will put more money in savings as opposed to go out and spend it on partying.” Read more

In tests, participants who saw the aged image of themselves saved twice as much for retirement as those who saw their current appearance.

In tests, participants who saw the aged image of themselves saved twice as much for retirement as those who saw their current appearance.

LOOKING AHEAD TO THE SPEND-DOWN YEARS, September 2010
Using virtual reality to enable people to see images of their “future selves” can affect their decisions about saving for retirement, according
to studies by researchers at the Center on Longevity. Professor Jeremy Bailenson, a Center affiliate, Laura L. Carstensen, director of the Center, and former graduate student Hal Ersner-Hershfield, who is now a post-doctoral fellow at Northwestern University, study ways in which technology may help people save.

HOW HEALTH REFORM PUNISHES WORK, January 2010
In an April, 2001 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Center on Longevity Faculty Affiliate Dan Kessler examined the unintended consequences of a little-discussed part of the healthcare reform bill—the over $100 billion per year subsidies the government will provide to help purchase health insurance. Kessler, the David S. and Ann M. Barlow Professor of Law and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, presented the following example:

“A family of four headed by a 55-year-old earning $31,389 in 2014 dollars (134% of the federal poverty line) in a high-cost area will get a subsidy of $22,740. This will cover 96% of an insurance policy that the Kaiser Family Foundation predicts will cost $23,700. A similar family earning $93,699 (400% of poverty) gets a subsidy of $14,799. But a family earning $1 more—$93,700—gets no subsidy.”

What Kessler points out is what economists call “notches”—large discontinuous changes in benefits. Prior economic research has shown that such notches incentive people to work less so as not to exceed income thresholds. Kessler also points out that because the subsidies are so large relative to income that when taxes are included even smoothing out the notches could imply that for every additional dollar earned by families in the subsidy range only twenty cents would come back to the family as additional spendable income. Kessler’s conclusion is straightforward:

“The only fix is to drastically reduce or eliminate the premium subsidies. As the 2012 elections approach, voters will have to decide: For middle-income families, should economic success be determined by work and savings, or by participation in a government program?”

Read the full article at The Wall Street Journal
 
 
 

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