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Q&A With Zoë Chance

Zoë Chance is a lecturer in marketing at the Yale School of Management. Her research includes consumer behavior, focusing on decision making and social welfare.

We invited our Facebook and Twitter followers, as well as students, to submit questions based on Chance’s research, and here is what she had to say.

In reference to the research article in Psychological Science,Giving Time Gives You Time” :

Is there a relationship between the amount of time given or volunteered and the amount of time received?

We didn’t find a relationship between the amount of time given or volunteered and the amount of time received — at least between 10 and 30 minutes. My collaborator, Mike Norton, has found in other studies that the psychological effects of giving money don’t vary between small amounts ($1 and $20), and we believe this effect also is more about the act of giving than the amount given. But at some point, of course, giving requires a real sacrifice of one’s own necessities. Other studies that have shown the health benefits of volunteering disappear after about 40 hours per year of volunteering, and I would suspect that the psychological benefits we observe might disappear as well.

In Experiment 3, participants were asked to go out into the real world and spend time on themselves or another person.  Did you collect any information on what sort of activities people participated in (both for themselves and for others). Do you think that the type of activity people participate in could influence their perception of time?

We did collect information on what types of activities people participated in when they were spending time on themselves and on others, and we were a bit surprised both by the variety (e.g., “I helped my husband inventory his yarn”) and the homogeneity of experiences (e.g., pedicures were tremendously popular among women who spent time on themselves). We had RAs code the activities into broad categories such as “educational,” “exercise,” and “personal grooming,” and found that controlling for activity did not affect the direction or significance of our results.

We find that in our studies, spending time on others affects time perception via perceived self-efficacy, and certainly some activities are more likely to increase the perception of self-efficacy than others. In some follow-up studies I’ve conducted with Troy Campbell and Lalin Anik at Duke, we’ve found that people believe they will feel more effective doing a task (e.g., grocery shopping) for someone else than they will doing the same task for themselves. So the differences we find in Study 3 may be due to both differences in activities and the fact that the tasks are being performed for others.

In your study you found that feelings of self-efficacy seem to link giving time with perceived time affluence. Do you think this is unique to situations where you are giving time to others? Could manipulating other things related to feelings of self-efficacy also change perceptions of time?

There’s no reason to believe that spending time on others is the only way, or even the best way, to increase time affluence through self-efficacy. I think it’s an interesting, surprising, and “good” way of doing so; however, I’m also curious about what other activities might increase self-efficacy and time perception. For example, Christian Wheeler has suggested that checking more or fewer items off a to-do list might accomplish the same thing, and that would be a very easy way to increase time affluence!

In Experiment 3, participants were told to spend time doing something for themselves that they weren’t planning on doing that day, or to spend time doing something for someone else that they weren’t planning on doing that day.  Did you get any sort of feedback from participants as to whether they actually spent time on themselves or others that day? What types of activities did they participate in?

We tried to increase the likelihood that people would do the activity by asking them in the morning what they planned to do and when they would do it, and by soliciting a promise to do so. In the follow-up survey, we told participants that there was no penalty for not having completed the activity, that we understand sometimes unexpected things come up, but that from a scientific perspective, it was important for us to know who did the activity and who didn’t. We said that if they hadn’t completed the activity they had planned on, we’d like them to check a box to let us know that, but to complete the rest of the survey as if they had.

About ten percent of the respondents admitted not having completed the task they were assigned, and we reported results excluding those people; however, including them in the analysis didn’t change the direction or significance of the results. Some other activities participants did included: cooking a nice meal for oneself or someone else, shoveling snow from a neighbor’s driveway, helping someone else with homework, reading a novel, taking a bath, playing video games, listening, lifting weights, running, doing someone else’s laundry, doing someone else’s hair, and repairing a truck.

Do people feel they have more time or less time depending on the type of volunteer work they’re participating in?

Good question, and we don’t know. From personal experience, however, I can say that the perceived efficacy of volunteer work certainly varies a lot! I expect that observing the direct effects of one’s labor is probably important. For example, serving meals in a soup kitchen might feel much more effective than canvassing for votes, and might therefore have a greater effect on time affluence.

What areas of research would you like to study that you haven’t had a chance to explore yet?

Thanks for asking. A couple of related things I’m curious about are understanding what other types of activities make people feel more productive and less time constrained (e.g., the checking off the to-do list idea) and also, whether the feeling of having more time exacerbates the planning fallacy (George Wu’s suggestion). And in other work that I’m excited about, I’m already exploring a parallel phenomenon: how giving away money can make people feel wealthier.

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