Be Careful What You Wish For, Even If You Fail To Remember0

The mind is a funny thing. When it comes to certain events in our lives, we tend to “misremember” our expectations in advance, therefore revising our conclusions after so we are consistent with our actual feelings.  Or so concludes the research appearing in the November issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, a publication of the American Psychological Association.

Recognizing that the process of predicting emotions is imperfect at best, but the idea behind “misremembering” these emotions may be somewhat logical. Trust in one’s emotional instincts could be “nature’s feedback mechanism to steer us toward actions that are good for us,” said study author and psychologist Tom Meyvis, PhD, of New York University. The study finds that human “ignorance” of this proclivity may help with motivation as we avoid what may appear to be “bad” and pursue that which is “good”.

[audio:|titles=You or Your Memory]Five studies compared an actual and recollected prediction to post-event feelings for each scenario:

  • Before the 2005 Super Bowl football game, 19 Philadelphia Eagles fans were asked: How happy will you be if they lose to the Patriots? After the loss, they were asked: How happy are you? How happy did you think you would be?
  • Before the 2008 presidential election (2 separate studies), 73 supporters of John McCain were asked: How upset will you be if Obama wins?After his win, they were asked: How upset are you about Obama’s win? How upset did you think you would be?
  • Before making an important purchase, 40 participants were asked: How happy will it make you feel? After the purchase, they were asked: How happy are you? How happy did you think you’d be?
  • Before they ate a jelly bean in two separate sequences (after eating a more preferred or less preferred flavor), 53 participants were asked: How much will you enjoy this jelly bean in each sequence? After eating both sequences of jelly beans, they were asked: How much did you enjoy the jelly bean in each sequence? How much did you think you would enjoy it?

Overall, participants failed to accurately predict their feelings, and on top of that, “misremembered” their predictions after the event. The direction of this revision in history typically shifted toward how individuals actually felt. As just one example, some Philadelphia Eagles fans expressed in advance their devastation if the Patriots won, but afterward dismissed the victory and stated they never doubted they would be just fine after such a result.

The findings indicate that this recall error results from people’s tendency to focus more on their current feelings when trying to recall earlier forecasts. These results also suggest that a failure to accurately recall one’s past predictions contributes to the perpetuation of forecasting errors. People typically do not realize they made a mistake, and therefore they do not from this mistake. This may encourage repetition of the same error in memory, in response to which the researches predicted: “So, next time, Eagles fans will again expect to be devastated after their team’s loss.”

Additional Sources: Science Daily; Medical News Today

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