Overestimating The Emotional Impact Of Future Events

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New research
suggests a way we can correct for a well-established bias in how we imagine our
emotional reaction to future events. Just imagine for a moment how you would
feel if you won the lottery tomorrow. Alternatively, imagine how would you feel
if someone close to you was badly injured in an accident. Chances are that in
imagining your own future feelings, you have overestimated their strength –
both positive and negative.
in this study were split into two groups and carried out a similar task of
imagining their reactions to future events as you’ve just done. One group were
asked to recall their worst experience, while the other group were asked to
recall any bad experience.
What they
found was that those people who had been asked to recall their worst experience
were likely to make more moderate predictions about their future feelings.
These more moderate predictions have been shown in previous research to be more
accurate. This is because people tend not to experience the extremes of emotions
that they often predict for themselves.
This has
serious implications for all our decisions about the future. Are there things
you need to do that you are avoiding, because you imagine they will be too
painful? Research like this shows it’s highly likely you are over-estimating
the strength of your emotions. A way around this problem is to imagine the
worst related thing that has happened to you personally and evaluate the future
in this context.
Let me know
if it works!
About the author
Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in
psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in
He has been
writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author
of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.