Monday, November 15, 2010


Today means so little for your future happiness. Mostly because we are bad at predicting our future happiness. Here is a snippet from PT:
The evidence is pretty clear, though, that big positive and negative events don't have an enormous impact on people's happiness. In a 1998 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Dan Gilbert, Tim Wilson, and their colleagues found that college faculty being evaluated for tenure believed they would be quite unhappy if they were denied tenure. Several months after their tenure decision, though, college faculty who had been denied tenure were no less happy than those who had gotten tenure.

This finding, that we believe future positive and negative events have a bigger impact on our future happiness than they do, is called an affective forecasting error. One thing about these errors that is not well understood: Why don't they go away over time? We all have experience with these errors. As a kid, I remember toys that I really wanted because I had seen them in a catalog. When I actually got one of those toys, though, it was never quite the life-changing experience I expected. So, why don't examples like this get rid of affective forecasting errors?

This question was explored in a November 2010 paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology by Tom Meyvis, Rebecca Ratner, and Jonathan Levav.

These researchers find that people have difficulty remembering their initial prediction for how they would feel after a positive or negative event. In one study, they asked voters in the 2008 election how they would feel a week after the election if Barack Obama won. Supporters of John McCain rated that they would be quite unhappy. A week after the election, these same voters were contacted again and asked how happy they were. They were also asked to recall how happy they said they would be before the election. These voters were significantly happier than they predicted they would be (that is the affective forecasting error). They also remembered their prediction as being less extreme than it was. That is, they did not remember predicting that they would be very unhappy.

The researchers demonstrated that this poor memory for previous predictions makes it hard for people to learn to predict better in the future. In this study, some people were reminded of their initial prediction, and those people who were reminded of what they actually predicted showed smaller affective forecasting errors in the future.

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