Hindsight bias “For some years after the arrival of Hustings as governor general of India, the consolidation of British power involved serious war. The first of these wars took place on the northern frontier of Bengal where the British were faced by the plundering raids of the Gurkas of Nepal. Attempts had been made to stop the raids by an exchange of lands, but the Gurkas…” What was the probability of: – British victory – Gurka victory – Military stalemate with a peace settlement – Military stalemate with no peace settlement
Hindsight and diagnoses People complained to a mental hospital that they were hearing voices, but otherwise honestly reported their life histories and emotions – Most were diagnosed with schizophrenia and were hospitalized for several weeks—as soon as they were admitted, they stopped showing symptoms and behaved as normally as possible Doctors and nurses took perfectly normal behaviors and interpreted them as consistent with their diagnosis, which kept them hospitalized longer They also took normal past behavior to be “causes” of current “problems” When staff were later told that pseudopatients were going to be admitted, 41 of 193 new patients were accused of being fake patients—but none were
Presentism in the past When people hear persuasive arguments and have a change in opinion, they misremember their past attitude as being closer to their current attitude than it actually was When couples try to remember how they felt about their romantic partner two months ago, their impressions essentially reflect how the feel about their partner now When people suffering from headaches report how much pain they felt the previous day, it is based on how much pain they are feeling now
Implicit theories of behavior People have theories about how the world works, and remember the world working accordingly – The more women believe that PMS makes them moody, the more distress they recall suffering the previous month; this recalled distress is exaggerated (McFarland, Ross, & DeCourville, 1989) – Men and women believe that women are the emotional gender, and women recall greater emotionality the previous month, but when they record their momentary emotional reactions, they are equally emotional (Barrett et al., 1998)
The meaning of our memories Is happiness due to our momentary enjoyment of life, or is it due to the meaning of our lives, the bigger picture of who we are and what we do?
Do we remember how happy we were? The Day Reconstruction Method was developed by a team of psychologists and economists This method asks participants to break their day up in to discrete episodes, about 14 or so – “Got ready for work” – “Went to the grocery store” They rate how happy each episode made them, how satisfied they were with the activity, and how happy they were in general
How do we measure happiness? When asked about child care in general, people are highly enthusiastic – It appears specific instances are less enjoyable Commuting is something you never adapt to – If you hate it the first day, you’ll hate it the last The results are also different for different countries – French women are much happier preparing food and taking care of kids, because they are more appreciated, and they may have help from extended family
Does money buy happiness? For many years it was believed that money did not increase happiness, but recent research suggests that it might People believed that it didn’t make a difference because: – Increases in GNP don’t track with increases in happiness – Receiving lots of money doesn’t make people happier—lottery winners are not much happier than controls or paraplegics
Does money buy happiness? There is a relationship between money and happiness, both across income levels and across countries The place where money buys the most happiness is the jump from no money to enough more; much more than that doesn’t make a huge difference People also do become happier when they win money; they just adapt to it What matters more is how much those around you make
Relative money buys happiness Would you rather live in a world where you earn $50,000 and your friends earn $25,000, or a world where you earn $100,000 and your friends earn $250,000? A majority (52%) say the first world is more appealing This suggests that it is not just how much you earn, but how much the others around you earn as well
What you buy matters People are happier with experiential rather than material purchases – They’re easier to reinterpret in a positive light, and live on only in memory, so they can’t break or fail; we also adapt more slowly to them – They’re harder to make negative comparisons to—a 8GB iPod Nano is always less than a 16GB one, but is a vacation to Los Angeles always less than one to Puerto Rico? – They foster positive social interactions: people would rather talk with others about their experiences than their possessions, and like others better who talk about experiences than those who talk about possessions
Mind your peaks and ends Participants were shown a series of positive or negative pictures, and had them track their affective experience moment by moment The correlations between their overall judgment of the pictures and several factors were tested
Mind your peaks and ends Patients undergoing colonoscopies were also tested They underwent one of two procedures One was short and intense, the other the same except for that it was extended to add a gentle ending ShortLong Rated “end” pain2.51.7 Rated pain overall4.94.4 % agreeing to follow-up50.1%70.5%
Mind your peaks and ends This same effect is found with a cold pressor task in the lab Participants either had their hand in 14 degree C water for 60 seconds, or they had it in 14 degree C water for 60 seconds, and then for 30 seconds at 15.1 degrees C Participants preferred the longer task (69% of them, even) because the pain for the last 30 seconds was less
Protecting treasured memories People are hesitant to re-experience special experiences, for fearing of ruining the memory of the previous event If they do re-experience it, they want the new version to be as similar to the first as possible People were asked to remember a special experience or a nice but not special experience – People were less likely to want to return to the place where the special (vs. nonspecial) experience occurred – People who remembered a special experience were more likely to mention wanting to protect that memory Zauberman et al., 2009
What are your regrets? Do you regret the things you’ve done? Do you regret the things you haven’t done?
Embrace action Mr. Paul owns shares in Company A. During the past year he considered switching to stock to Company B. He now finds out he would have been better off by $1200 if he had switched to the stock of Company B. Mr. George owned shares in Company B. During the past year he switched to stock in Company A. he now finds out he would have been better off by $1200 if he had kept his stock in Company B. Who feels more regret?
Embrace action People who list regrets list more regrets about things they wish they did but didn’t do (75%) than regrets about the things they did but wished they hadn’t (25%) When asked straight out, 37% of people regret actions, whereas 63% regret inactions more Terman’s geniuses reported late in life about their regrets: 54% regretted inactions most, 12% regretted actions most, and 54% regretted neither When asked about what they regret most in the past week, 53% of participants regret actions more When asked about what they regret most in their lifetimes, 18% regretted actions more
Why embrace action? There are factors that reduce the pain of regrettable action i.e., the psychological immune system After positive and negative events, we incorporate them into our psychological being and get used to them, so we don’t have as strong reactions to them and we return to “homeostasis” – This is why hope can have more negative effects than hopelessness Dissonance theory suggests one other route of repair We also do more behavioral repair work to fix actions. Once we’ve changed, it’s easier to change again
Why embrace action? There are also factors that bolster our regret of inaction One is that our confidence increases over time; our earlier failures to act seem inexplicable We also forget the circumstances that prevented us from acting in the past
Why embrace action? Participants were asked if they were to add another course to their schedule, how it would effect their lives These participants were either current students, recent students, or alumni This seemed much easier the further in the past it was
Rationalization Think back to cognitive dissonance The iconic example of rationalization – People find ways to make themselves feel better about their choices – They change their attitude, in retrospect – They find reasons why their chosen option was the right choice for them, and the non-chosen option was wrong There are certain conditions under which rationalization is especially likely
Peculiar longevity of things not so bad Gilbert et al., 2004
Mere ownership Simply owning an object makes that object seem to be worth more to its owner – It’s hard to recognize the effect this has when you’re not the owner This is called the endowment effect Van Boven et al., 2000
The big picture The present only exists for a moment; then it’s forever consigned to the past Memories exist to serve the present Sometimes they serve us best by being inaccurate – They compel us to act in ways that might make us happier – They help us feel better about the choices we make – They provide meaning to our lives
Summary The past serves the present, even if that means it has to change – We knew it all along – We change our view of what makes us happy – We regret inactions more the further we get from them – The things we own become more valuable – We rationalize our decisions so that they become better decisions
Next time… How do we figure out who people are?