By Dr Katharina Lefringhausen

Past research on intercultural training focuses on its appropriate content, duration, medium, teaching methods or trainers and trainees’ personality traits that enable changes in cultural awareness, attitudes and behaviors (Barker, 2016; Littrell & Salas, 2005). Fowler and Blohm’s (2004) handbook of intercultural training, for example, is a popular guide book for practitioners and exemplifies the focus in the field on creating context sensitive training methods and assessment tools.

Yet too often intercultural competence trainers complain that attendees can show very low levels of engagement during training sessions which may hamper its overall impact. Indeed, one of the main challenges mentioned in the 2014 status report of the intercultural profession (Salzbrenner, Schulze, & Franz, 2014, p. 15) is summarized in terms of “[c]onvincing customers that this [intercultural training] is about bottom-line impact”. Within the business world, the lack of emphasize on intercultural competence development is further stressed by the growing expectation that “bitesized” training sessions of only a few hours is enough to induce a dramatic shift in trainees’ skills and attitudes (Commisceo Global, 2017). Main reasons for this lack of interest may be caused through endorsed ethnocentrism/expecting one’s own culture to dominate in future interpersonal situations, regarding intercultural competence as a soft skill one can learn ‘on the job’ when a conflict happens or because issues such as housing or legal status are perceived as more pressing matters at the time. In brief, trainees often lack enthusiasm and interest in intercultural skill development as they seem to focus on their present self that may not face any immediate intercultural situations while lacking a sense of connection to their future self who will have to handle intercultural situations.

The extent to which individuals feel connected to and compatible with their future selves is described as future self-continuity (Oyserman, 2009). The concept links to the identity-based motivation model (Oyserman & Destin, 2010) in which the perceived congruence between present and future selves guides individuals decisions and motivations with regard to tasks at hand. In other words, “if individuals consider their future selves as different people, they may have no more reason to reward the future self than to give resources to strangers” (Hershfield et al., 2009, p. 280).

Thus, it is not surprising that future self-continuity has been found to play a key role in “decisions that involve trade-offs among costs and benefits occurring at different times” (Adelman et al., 2017, pp. 399). Thus, people who perceive a strong connection and similarity between their present- and future-self are more likely to engage in tasks or activities that benefit their future-self rather than inducing immediate benefit for the present-self. Hershfield et al. (2011), for example, found that morphing selfies of participants to make them appear older led them to greater monetary saving behavior. A following study by Hershfield et al. (2012) reported that future self-continuity increased the tendency to consider future consequences over present consequences as well as the tendency to control one’s behaviour. Adelman et al. (2017) confirmed these findings in their US American undergraduate student sample. Here future self-continuity related positively to students’ focus on their future, negatively to their focus on the presence, and positively to self-control which the researchers interpreted as the combined driving force that improved students’ academic performance. Past research also established links between levels of perceived future self-continuity and procrastination (Blouin-Hudon & Pychyl, 2017, Sirois & Pychyl, 2013), stressing that people with low levels of future self-continuity seem not to fully realize how their present actions affect their future selves.

Taken the outlined research into account, the question arises: would a high level of perceived future-self continuity enhance trainees’ engagement in, and thus, benefit from intercultural training sessions? If so, tasks that encourage a stronger link between one’s present self and future self could become essential tools for intercultural practitioners.

To test this notion, Ciaran O’ Brien (Director for Community Development) and Dr Katharina Lefringhausen are currently conducting a research project aimed at volunteers in England who work with/support refugees and asylum seekers. Moreover, their project investigates whether a one day intercultural training session can achieve changes in cultural awareness and intercultural competence skills to the benefit of the participating volunteers as well as of the refugees they work with.
For more information on the project and how to participate, please have a look at the project invitation letter (link) or contact Dr Katharina Lefringhausen ( until the 8th of May 2018. (updated on 25th of April)

For more information on future self-continuity, please see: