Learning from the lab: message granularity and saving beliefs

Money framing
Experiment Type
Lab Learning
Increase program enrollment
Increase short-term savings
Focus Areas
Lab Research
Behavioral Concepts
Framing Anchoring

What Happened

It worked. Although statistical significance wasn't explicity mentioned, it seemed that anchoring potential savers on a bigger number resulted in increased perceived importance of future savings. Although, this was just perceived importance. The researchers claim they will explore if this effect actually translates to behavior.

Lessons Learned

This study suggests that anchoring potential savers on a large number (amount saved over a longer period of time) is important in increasing the percieved importance of saving for the future.


Many people fail to take full advantage of sponsored savings accounts, even when an outside party provides financial incentives to encourage contributions. These sponsored savings accounts an under-used opportunity to increase overall savings. They can also establish a routine and build a habit of regularly depositing money into a savings account.

One possible reason why people fail to make use of such accounts is because they aren’t weighing potential benefits of saving for the future properly. We designed an experiment to see if we could make progress on this issue by increasing how important people think it is to save for the future.

Key Insights

Previous research around the concept of anchoring has shown that bigger numbers create a greater impact in memory and perception. This concept might provide a way to help people recognize the benefits of saving and change how important they believe it to be.

We hypothesized that people would believe saving to be more important when shown descriptions of savings programs that highlighted how much money could be gained over a longer time-period (e.g., over a period of two years), compared to the same amount but described in a way that highlighted how much money could be gained over a shorter amount of time (e.g., over a single day).


Online participants read about a hypothetical government-sponsored savings program. Across four conditions, they were told how much money they could save per day, per month, per year, or per two years (only conditions 1 and 2 are shown below). Participants were from the UK, so savings were displayed in terms of pounds they could save. Afterwards, participants were asked how important they believed saving for the future to be.


Across three online studies with over 1300 participants, participants who read about the money they could save over a two-year period consistently believed that saving for the future was more than important than those who read about how much they could save in a shorter time period. These results suggest that one way to encourage people to see saving as important, and potentially encourage greater use of savings programs, is to place people in a long term mindset that highlights the large amounts of money they may gain over a longer period of time.

Beliefs about the importance of saving for the future increased by 4% when participants saw how much savings could accumulate over a long time period (two years) than shorter time periods (one day, one month, one year). We will continue to explore if this increase in perceived importance actually translates to behavior.