Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting                                                    ...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting                                        Abstract    ...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting       Human beings possess a unique ability to enga...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting& McFarland, 2001), as well as how long they will fe...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting1996; Loewenstein, Nagin, & Paternoster, 1997; Loewe...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingwe consider whether emotional time travel can be imp...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingavoidance of traveling and crowds is predicted bette...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingsuggests that people’s affective forecasts influence...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingchoice is framed, but also by people’s frame of mind...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingforecasts and experiences). Indeed, a number of stud...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingpredicted their actual liking on that day; there was...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingvalid predictor of actual experiences, but future re...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingupcoming event is likely to be less extreme than the...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingside-by-side fashion, thereby reducing excessive foc...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingchange (2) a range of relevant past experiences or (...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastinghow they would feel on the first warm day of spring,...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective ForecastingPredicted and actual feelings were barely correlated...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingthe domain-specificity of evolved psychological mech...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingtendency to overestimate the intensity of their pain...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingthese criteria. Take, for example, the case of a man...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingmispredict their future feelings by just one to two ...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingwould be while undergoing treatment for a serious di...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective ForecastingNegative social consequences may arise as well. If p...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting        This is not to say that affective forecastin...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingdecisions that are based on affective forecasts, mos...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting       affective forecasting.] Unpublished raw data,...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting       changeable outcomes. Journal of Personality a...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective ForecastingHsee, C. K. (1999). Value seeking and prediction-dec...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective ForecastingLoewenstein, G., ODonoghue, T. and Rabin, M. (in pre...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective ForecastingRead, D, & van Leeuwen, B. (1998). Predicting hunger...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective ForecastingTomarken, A. J., Mineka, S., & Cook, M. (1989). Fear...
Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting       Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (V...
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Journeys in Time

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Journeys in Time

  1. 1. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting 1 Emotional Time Travel:Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting Wali Memon Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  2. 2. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting Abstract 2In this chapter I consider six broad questions that we deem relevant to understandingeveryday emotional time travel. The importance of affective forecasts lies primarily intheir capacity to guide decision making and behavior, and so I begin by asking: How andwhen do people’s affective forecasts influence their decisions? To the extent thataffective forecasts influence decisions, the quality of those decisions rests on thecorrespondence between forecasts and actual experiences. So our next question is: Howwell do forecasts predict later experiences? In later sections of the chapter I considerwhether emotional time travel can be improved and whether some people are betteraffective forecasters than others. Finally, I discuss affective forecasting from anevolutionary perspective and then consider the implications that forecasting biases havefor individual well-being, interpersonal relationships, economic growth, and socialjustice. Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  3. 3. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting Human beings possess a unique ability to engage in emotional time travel, 3mentally fast forwarding through time to envision how much they will love their spousefive years later or how much they will enjoy a hot fudge sundae next Thursday.Emotional time travel is not without its pitfalls, however, as recent research hasdocumented. At the most obvious level, people may make inaccurate predictions abouthow they will feel in a situation because the situation unfolds differently than theyexpect. For example, if a vacationer imagines a week of swimming and surfing inAustralia and arrives to find the beaches swarming with man-eating sharks and deadlyjellyfish, her actual emotional experiences during the vacation are likely to divergesharply from her original expectations. Yet, even if the situation people experienceobjectively matches the situation they imagined, people face a fundamentally differentpsychological situation when they experience an event than when they imagine it. Thefailure to recognize this basic point begets a wide variety of affective forecasting errors. Experiencing an event is fundamentally different from imagining it because oncean event occurs people are generally motivated to make the best of it. Upon findingherself sharing a beach with sharks and jellyfish, for example, our traveler might findpleasure in the opportunity to observe exotic wildlife in their natural habitat, though sheprobably would not have foreseen her own ability to reconstrue the situation in this way.Indeed, people are extremely adept at reconstrual, rationalization, and other mentaltransformations that take the sting out of unwanted events, but they are often blind tothese tools of the “psychological immune system” (Gilbert, Pinel, Wilson, Blumberg, &Wheatley, 1998, p. 617). As a result of this blindness, they often overestimate howmiserable they will feel when faced with misfortune, exhibiting an intensity bias (Buehler Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  4. 4. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting& McFarland, 2001), as well as how long they will feel that way, exhibiting a durability 4bias (Gilbert et al., 1998; Wilson, Wheatley, Meyers, Gilbert, & Axsom, 2000). Inpractice, it is often difficult to distinguish the intensity bias from the durability bias, andthe broader tendency to overestimate the power and persistence of emotional reactions toevents is now commonly labeled the impact bias. (Gilbert, Driver-Linn, & Wilson, 2002;Wilson & Gilbert, 2003). The impact bias has been observed for positive events, as well as negative (e.g.,Buehler & McFarland, 2001; Dunn, Wilson, & Gilbert, 2003; Gilbert et al., 1998; Wilsonet al., 2000). Whether positive or negative, imagining an event is very different fromexperiencing it because people tend to imagine focal events in isolation, whereas eventsare rarely experienced in a vacuum. For example, in imagining how happy he will feel onthe day his first child is born, an expectant father is likely to focus on the miraculousarrival of his new baby, while forgetting that the taste of hospital food, the chatter ofrelatives, and the songs playing in the waiting room will serve as the background, at leasttemporarily distracting him from the main event. Thus, because people exhibit focalism,imagining focal events without regard to background distractions, they tend tooverestimate their emotional reactions to both positive and negative events (Lam,Buehler, McFarland, & Ross; Wilson et al., 2000; see also Schkade & Kahneman, 1998) The affective forecasting errors discussed above stem from virtually ubiquitousdifferences in the psychological situations faced by forecasters versus experiencers, butother important differences may arise as well, further clouding forecasts. Forecasts arelikely to be particularly inaccurate to the extent that one’s visceral state at the time offorecasting differs from one’s visceral state at the time of experiencing (Loewenstein, Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  5. 5. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting1996; Loewenstein, Nagin, & Paternoster, 1997; Loewenstein, O’Donoghue, & Rabin, in 5press; Read & van Leeuwen, 1998; Van Boven, Dunning, & Loewenstein, 2000; VanBoven, Loewenstein, & Dunning, in press). Visceral factors, which include hunger, pain,moods, sexual arousal, and other motivational or drive states, have powerful effects oncognition and behavior. People often fail to appreciate the full influence of such visceralfactors, however, creating an empathy gap between their current and future selves thatinterferes with successful forecasting (Loewenstein, 1996; Loewenstein & Schkade,1999). For example, sated people have trouble predicting what snacks they will like bestwhen they are later hungry (Read & van Leeuwen, 1998), and unaroused men havetrouble predicting how they will feel and behave around a woman when sexually aroused(Loewenstein, et al., 1997). Thus, the more one’s psychological state differs between thestages of forecasting and experiencing, the more one’s forecasts are likely to proveinaccurate. There are, of course, other sources and types of affective forecasting errors, butexcellent taxonomies are available elsewhere (Gilbert, Driver-Linn, & Wilson, 2002;Gilbert & Wilson, 2000; Loewenstein & Schkade, 1999; Wilson & Gilbert, 2003).Therefore, in the pages that follow, we address six broader questions that we believe arerelevant to understanding everyday emotional time travel. Because the importance ofaffective forecasts lies primarily in their capacity to drive behavior, we begin byconsidering how and when people’s affective forecasts influence their decisions(Question I). To the extent that affective forecasts influence decisions, the quality ofthose decisions rests on the correspondence between forecasts and actual experiences;under Question II, then, we address how well forecasts predict later experiences. Next, Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  6. 6. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingwe consider whether emotional time travel can be improved (Question III) and whether 6some people are better emotional time travelers than others (Question IV). Finally, wediscuss the consequences of affective forecasting errors for the survival of the humanspecies (Question V), as well as for individual well-being, interpersonal relationships,economic growth, and social justice (Question VI).I. How do affective forecasts influence decisions? Most articles on affective forecasting highlight the importance of this topic bynoting that people’s anticipated emotions influence their decisions. Often, however,relatively little evidence is provided for this assumption, perhaps because it seems soreasonable. Like many reasonable assumptions, however, this one is both accurate andoversimplified. Recent research supports the basic intuition that affective forecasts can oftenguide decision-making. In fact, when faced with a decision between gambles, people’santicipated emotions predict their choices above and beyond the economic utility of thegambles (Mellers, Schwarz, Ho, & Ritov, 1997; Mellers, Schwarz, & Ritov, 1999).People’s anticipation of regret seems to play a particularly powerful role in shaping theirdecisions (e.g., Crawford, McConnell, Lewis, & Sherman, 2002; Mellers et al., 1999;Zeelenberg, 1999; Zeelenberg, Beattie, van der Plight, & de Vries, 1996). For example,when people anticipate that complying with a persuasion attempt will produce less regretthan defying it, they typically choose to comply (Crawford et al., 2002). Decision-makingis also strongly influenced by the fear and panic that people expect to feel whenencountering a frightening situation (e.g., Cox & Swinson, 1994; Craske, Rapee, &Barlow, 1988). Among patients suffering from panic disorder with agoraphobia, Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  7. 7. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingavoidance of traveling and crowds is predicted better by their anticipated levels of panic 7than by their actual experiences of panic (Cox & Swinson, 1994). Affective forecastsmay not only influence problem-focused coping behaviors such as eschewing potentiallyregrettable decisions or frightening situations, but may also guide decisions aboutemotion-focused coping. When forecasters anticipated possible social rejection, theyselected higher levels of a mood-enhancing drug than did experiencers who had actuallyencountered this rejection, reflecting forecasters’ mistaken belief that the rejection wouldbe quite painful (Wilson, Wheatley, Kurtz, Dunn, & Gilbert, 2004). Regardless of theiraccuracy, then, affective forecasts influence people’s decisions about whether toapproach or avoid situations and about how to deal with situations that cannot beavoided. Yet, affective forecasts sometimes play a more limited role in decision-making.The degree of correspondence between forecasts and decisions may depend in part on thenature of the choice situation. When people choose an item for immediate consumption,they tend to select the item that they expect to enjoy most, whereas when they choose agroup of items, some of which will only be consumed at a later time, they tend to includeitems in their selection that are expected to produce lower levels of enjoyment duringconsumption (Simonson, 1990; Read, Loewenstein, & Kalyanaraman, 1999). Forexample, when choosing a video to watch that day, people tend to select enjoyable, ifforgettable, “lowbrow” movies (e.g., Speed), whereas when choosing a series of moviesto watch in the future, people are more likely to select more memorable “highbrow”movies that they are less likely to enjoy (e.g., Schindler’s List; Read et al., 1999). This Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  8. 8. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingsuggests that people’s affective forecasts influence their decisions more strongly when 8the chosen option is to be consumed sooner rather than later. The degree to which affective forecasts influence decisions also depends onwhether people view their feelings as appropriate guides for choice (Hsee, 1999; Hsee,Zhang, Yi, & Xi, 2003; Hsee & Rottenstreich, 2004). While it is unsurprising that peoplewould place little weight on their affective responses in selecting utilitarian goods such asvacuum cleaners, people may also sometimes dismiss their affective preferences inchoosing hedonic goods such as chocolate. When Hsee (1999) asked participants topredict whether they would feel better eating a small, 50-cent chocolate shaped like aheart, or a larger, $2 chocolate shaped like a roach, most reported that they would feelbetter eating the small heart, but most also reported that they would choose the largeroach. This discrepancy between affective forecasts and decisions seems to emergebecause people feel that they should choose higher-value items, even if these items arerelatively unenjoyable. More broadly, people may try to base their decisions on factorsthat seem scientific or justifiable, while suppressing the seemingly “irrational” influenceof their affective forecasts (Hsee et al, 2003). When are people likely to underweight their affective forecasts in this way? Ifpeople are comparing multiple options at once (e.g., two laptops), they can easily basetheir decision on rational, scientific attributes (e.g., gigabytes and megahertz). But ifpeople are simply choosing whether or not to accept a single option, such attributes maybe difficult to assess meaningfully (Hsee & Zhang, 2004), suggesting that affectiveforecasts about the product may receive greater weight in decision-making. Theinfluence of affective forecasts on decisions may be moderated not only by how the Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  9. 9. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingchoice is framed, but also by people’s frame of mind; after solving math problems, 9participants show less reliance on their feelings about a product than after answeringquestions about their affective responses to unrelated attitude objects (Hsee &Rottensreich, 2004). Summary. Existing research supports the widespread intuition that affectiveforecasts guide many of our decisions. Yet, affective forecasts may play a surprisinglysmall role in guiding our decisions, even those that are intended to produce pleasure,when people (1) choose a series of options for future consumption; (2) believe that thereare more appropriate, rational factors available for consideration; or (3) are in ananalytical, calculation-oriented state of mind.II. How well do affective forecasts predict experiences? To the extent that affective forecasts influence decisions, the validity of thosedecisions rests on whether forecasts accurately predict later experiences (Kahneman &Snell, 1992). Upon scanning the affective forecasting literature, one might be left with theimpression that decisions based on affective forecasts are likely to be rather poor;typically, studies in this area report the discrepancies between affective forecasts andactual experiences, thereby highlighting the shortcomings of forecasts. Yet, examiningthe correlations between forecasts and experiences paints a more optimistic picture,suggesting that people may have some degree of self-insight into their own emotionalfutures. It is theoretically possible, after all, for forecasts and experiences to be highlydiscrepant but perfectly correlated (e.g., if all participants overestimated their post-break-up misery by 2 points, they would show both the impact bias and perfectly correlated Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  10. 10. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingforecasts and experiences). Indeed, a number of studies that report significant 10discrepancies between forecasts and experiences also report that forecasts andexperiences are significantly correlated (e.g., Buehler & McFarland, 2001; Dunn, Wilson,& Gilbert, 2003; Rachman & Eyrl, 1989; Wirtz, Kruger, Napa Scollon, & Diener, 2003).This suggests that knowing how happy someone expects to be in a particular situation isoften a valid predictor of how happy they will actually be. There is, however, substantial variability in the strength of forecast-experiencecorrelations across studies. While it is rare to observe near-zero correlations betweenforecasts and experiences, correlations range from quite small (e.g., .15; Klaaren, Hodges& Wilson, 1994) to extremely high (e.g., .98; Mellers, Schwarz, & Ritov, 1999).Variables such as the familiarity of the target situation and the amount of time betweenforecasts and experiences may moderate the degree of correspondence between forecastsand experiences, although the role of such moderating variables has not been yet beendirectly examined. Of course, even if forecasts and experiences are strongly correlated across asample of participants, this does not necessarily reflect true self-insight on behalf of theparticipants. For example, ice cream lovers are likely to predict and actually experiencegreater enjoyment of next Thursday’s hot fudge sundae compared to ice cream haters.Rather than reflecting a real ability to peer into the future, the resulting correlationbetween forecasted and experienced sundae enjoyment may emerge because initial icecream liking acts as a third variable, influencing both forecasts and experiences. In linewith this idea, Kahneman and Snell (1992) found that participants’ forecasts of howmuch they would like ice cream, yogurt, and music on a given day in the future typically Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  11. 11. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingpredicted their actual liking on that day; there was, however, virtually no relationship 11between participants’ predicted and actual changes in liking over the course of a week.This suggests that people may sometimes have little insight into how their affectivereactions will differ in the future, and observed correlations between forecasts andexperiences may occur largely because both are related to initial affect. Still, even if people have little insight into the temporal dynamics of their specifictastes, they may be more adept at predicting shifts in their general mood. Using a within-subjects approach, Totterdell, Parkinson, Briner, and Reynolds (1997) found significantrelationships between participants’ forecasted and actual daily moods over a two-weekperiod. Still, forecasts explained no more than 10% of the variance in experiences. Someparticipants exhibited high correlations between forecasts and experiences across dayswhile others exhibited low or even negative correlations, suggesting that there may besubstantial individual differences in forecasting ability (see Question IV). Summary. Although most studies emphasize discrepancies between forecasts andexperiences and therefore highlight flaws in forecasting, it is important to recognize thatforecasts and experiences are typically correlated. This means that if Aunt Rita expects toenjoy a vacation in Hawaii more than Uncle George, then it’s a good bet that Rita will behappier in Hawaii than George (though neither may be as happy as they expected). It isnot clear whether such correspondence between forecasts and experiences reflects trueknowledge about oneself and the temporal dynamics of affect, or if such correlationsemerge due to third variables such as initial affect. Indeed, Rita and George may showrelatively poor ability to predict how their feelings will shift over the course of theHawaiian vacation. In sum, there is evidence that affective forecasts are often a useful, Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  12. 12. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingvalid predictor of actual experiences, but future research must illuminate for whom, 12when, and why forecasts predict experiences.III. Can emotional time travel be improved? Although affective forecasts are rooted in reality, suggesting that emotional timetravel is more than just a flight of fancy, there is clearly substantial room forimprovement. Luckily, almost as fast as researchers have identified biases in affectiveforecasting, they have developed simple interventions that reduce these biases. The impact bias is as pervasive as acne, and it may be as treatable. Simplypriming people with the general concept of progression or change may lead them torecognize that their own affective responses will wear off quickly; when Igou (2004)exposed participants to a graph showing declining ozone levels (priming change), theypredicted that their affective reactions would dissipate more quickly than when they sawa graph depicting stable ozone levels (priming continuity). The expected intensity ofinitial reactions to events may be reduced when people first think about their emotionalresponses to a wide range of similar past events (Buehler & McFarland, 2001;Morewedge, Gilbert & Wilson, in press). It is not sufficient to think of just one similarpast event, which may be the default strategy of people who bother to reflect on the pastat all in predicting the future; when people think about just one relevant past event, theyare likely to think of an extreme, atypical instance from their past, such as the BestChristmas Ever. Ironically, if it is only feasible to ask people to think of one past event, itmay be best to ask specifically for an extreme, atypical instance. People normally recallthis type of instance anyway, but explicitly labeling it as such underscores that the Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  13. 13. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingupcoming event is likely to be less extreme than the recalled event (Morewedge et al., in 13press). Just as taking a broad view of the past may help reduce the impact bias, so toomay thinking more broadly about the future. People tend to make extreme forecasts abouttheir emotional responses to a given upcoming event in part because they exhibitfocalism, neglecting background distractions. Therefore, simply asking people to thinkabout these background events and activities can reduce the extremity of their forecastsregarding a target event (Lam et al., in press; Wilson et al, 2000). For example, collegefootball fans made more moderate forecasts about how they would feel in the daysfollowing a win or loss by their team when they first described the other activities theywould be engaged in during that time (e.g., studying, socializing; Wilson et al., 2000). People’s affective forecasts may be improved not only by drawing their attentionto background events, but also by drawing their attention to features of the target event oroutcome that they may typically overlook. When people are faced with a set ofcompeting options, they typically focus on features that differentiate the outcomes, whileneglecting features that are shared or similar across options. For example, in looking atcolleges, students may focus on a few features that differentiate the colleges (e.g.,location) while paying little attention to their many shared features (e.g., size,extracurriculars). Asking people to think about features that are similar or shared acrossoutcomes can lead them to place increased weight on such features, which may beimportant for actual happiness but that otherwise would be neglected in forecasting(Dunn, Wilson, & Gilbert, 2003). An alternative to engaging in this kind of thoughtexercise may be to structure choice situations such that the options are not compared in Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  14. 14. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingside-by-side fashion, thereby reducing excessive focus on the options’ differentiating 14features (Hsee & Zhang, 2004). This suggests that students who attend informationsessions at three different schools in one day with notepad and pen clutched tightly inhand may make poorer affective forecasts than students who independently evaluate eachschool by spending a couple of days at each over several weeks. Whereas the impact bias and related affective forecasting errors may be relativelyeasy to counteract, errors caused by empathy gaps may be harder to correct. Exhibiting anempathy gap, people fail to recognize that they will feel attached to an object once itbecomes their own (the endowment effect; Loewenstein & Adler, 1995; Van Boven et al.,2000). Simple interventions such as monetary incentives for accuracy or classroominstruction on the endowment effect have failed to show promise in bridging thisempathy gap (Van Boven et al., 2000). The best approach to reducing affectiveforecasting errors stemming from empathy gaps may lie in inducing the same type ofvisceral, emotional, or motivational state in forecasters that they are likely to experienceat the relevant future time (Loewenstein et al., 1997; Van Boven et al, 2000). Forexample, there is indirect evidence that people may make more accurate forecasts abouthow they would feel and behave in a date rape scenario when they are in a state ofheightened sexual arousal at the time of forecasting (Loewenstein et al., 1997). Thus,although empathy gaps may be relatively unresponsive to the simple thought exercisesthat reduce other biases, clever interventions may prove effective in combating thispowerful and recalcitrant source of affective forecasting errors. Summary. There is strong evidence that one of the most prevalent pitfalls ofemotional time travel, the impact bias, can be reduced by thinking about (1) images of Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  15. 15. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingchange (2) a range of relevant past experiences or (3) background events that will serve 15as distractions from a focal event or outcome. Simple thought exercises may also beeffective in drawing people’s attention to important aspects of the focal event or outcomethat are typically overlooked. Affective forecasting errors stemming from empathy gapsmay require more involved interventions in which forecasters experience a state similarto the state they will experience in the future.IV. Are some people better emotional time travelers than others? The interventions above suggest ways of reducing affective forecasting biases inthe short-term but are unlikely to produce long-term improvements in forecasting ability.Given that making consistently accurate, unbiased affective forecasts may have importantintra-personal and interpersonal benefits (see Question VII), it would be useful to knowwhether some people are consistently skillful at emotional time travel. Although relatively little research has addressed this question, there are scatteredindications that some people may be less prone than others to specific types offorecasting biases. Older people may be less susceptible to the durability bias becausethey come to recognize that even important events rarely have lasting emotionalinfluence. Wilson, Gilbert, and Salthouse (2001) found some evidence that after age 60,people increasingly recognize how quickly the emotional power of events wears off(cited in Wilson & Gilbert, 2003). The tendency to overestimate the emotional power ofevents may also be less pronounced among East Asians than Westerners. Because EastAsians are more likely to think holistically, recognizing the importance of contextual,background information, they may be less likely to fall into the trap of focalism whenimagining their reactions to future events (Lam et al., in press). When asked to imagine Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  16. 16. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastinghow they would feel on the first warm day of spring, Euro-Canadian students focused 16largely on the focal event of warm weather and therefore exhibited the impact bias,overestimating how happy they would be that day. In contrast, Asian students at the sameuniversity did not show the impact bias because they focused less heavily on the targetevent of warm weather. Despite escaping the impact bias, Asians’ forecasts were notespecially accurate; when both forecasts and experiences were measured in a within-subjects design, the forecast-experience correlations were low for Asians and Euro-Canadians alike. Moving beyond susceptibility to bias, then, do some people show an elevatedcorrespondence between their forecasts and experiences? Interestingly, Riis and hiscolleagues found that end stage renal patients were significantly more accurate thanhealthy matched controls in making affective forecasts regarding their mood for thefollowing week (Riis, Loewenstein, Baron, Jepson, Fagerlin, & Ubel, in prep). Thepatients’ heightened accuracy seemed to emerge because they recognized that they wouldfocus on their positive experiences, a common tendency that may be less transparent tothose who have not encountered significant, enduring adversity. Of course, given thatmost people would not trade liver function for improved affective forecasting skills, itwould be valuable to identify a more common trait that predicts forecasting ability.Brackett, Dunn, and Schneiderman (2005) have found initial evidence that people whoare high in emotional intelligence (EI) may make relatively accurate affective forecasts.Supporters of John Kerry who had previously completed an ability-based measure of EIwere asked to predict how they would feel if George Bush won the 2004 Americanpresidential election, and then they reported their actual feelings after Bush’s win. Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  17. 17. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective ForecastingPredicted and actual feelings were barely correlated among participants who were low or 17near average in emotional intelligence, whereas predicted and actual feelings werestrongly and significantly correlated among participants who were high in EI. Althoughthis basic finding requires replication, it suggests that there may be predictable individualdifferences in forecasting accuracy. Summary. The impact bias may be attenuated among older people and EastAsians, although reducing the impact bias does not necessarily improve the correlationbetween forecasts and experience. The correspondence between forecasts andexperiences may be elevated among people who have encountered ongoing adversity andamong people who are high in emotional intelligence. These findings are recent andtentative, however, and examining individual differences in forecasting ability is arelatively new research area that is ripe for development.V. Could evolution favor affective forecasting biases? Although affective forecasting biases may be reduced for some people in somesituations, these biases are notable for their prevalence, spurring the question of whetherthe most common forecasting biases may somehow be functional on an evolutionarylevel. Indeed, the tendency to view cognitive and motivational biases in psychology aserrors is shifting with the recent emergence of evolutionary psychological perspectives ondecision-making and cognition (Cosmides & Tooby, 1994; Fox, 1992; Haselton & Buss,2003; Pinker, 1997). Evolutionary psychologists propose that evolution has produced a large number ofdomain-specific psychological mechanisms designed to solve particular kinds ofproblems (Buss, 1994; Symons, 1987; Tooby & Cosmides, 1992). Although the extent of Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  18. 18. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingthe domain-specificity of evolved psychological mechanisms remains debatable, such an 18approach could nevertheless prove fruitful for forecasting research. Research on snakefear (Tomarken, Mineka, & Cook, 1989) and food preferences (Rozin & Fallon, 1987;Rozin, Markwith, & Ross, 1990), for example, is consistent with the notion that peoplemay in fact possess adaptive biases in their affective reactions to specific stimuli. Peoplerefuse to drink from a brand new urine sample cup even though they know that the cupcannot possibly be contaminated (Rozin & Fallon, 1987). Does this oversensitivity tocontamination extend to predictions about nausea, for example, at the prospect of eatingfoods of varying probable contamination? Other work shows that people overestimate theassociation between evolutionarily dangerous stimuli (such as spiders or snakes) andshock more than the association between innocuous stimuli and shock (Tomarken, et al.,1989). Again, one might expect more extreme forecasting biases for evolutionarilyrelevant stimuli compared to events or stimuli that have had no recurrent influence onevolutionary fitness. Research on the prediction of fear and pain lends some support to thesespeculations. People generally overestimate how frightened they will be in the face offear-provoking situations (Arntz & van den Hout, 1988; Rachman, 1990, 1994; Rachman& Bichard, 1988; Rachman, Lopatka, & Levitt, 1988). Such overpredictions have beendemonstrated for fear of confined spaces, snakes, spiders, and panic episodes to name afew, and these findings obtain in clinical as well as normal populations, in both field andlaboratory settings (see Rachman, 1994 for a review). Predictions of pain show a similartrend. In predictions of dental (Arntz, van Eck, & Heijmans, 1990), arthritic (Rachman &Lopatka, 1988), and menstrual pain (Rachman & Eyrl, 1989), people show a consistent Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  19. 19. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingtendency to overestimate the intensity of their painful experiences. In so far as such 19overestimations of fear and pain lead people away from aversive experiences thatthreaten reproduction and survival (fear of snakes and spiders are of particular note here),inaccurate prediction may be adaptive. These suggestions are purposefully speculative and stand as examples of howevolutionary theory can inform affective forecasting research. Although these examplesare consistent with an evolutionary approach to affective forecasting, they are readilyencompassed by the mainstream social-cognitive explanatory framework of forecastingbiases; the instances noted above may simply be the consequences of focalism or othersuch domain-general mechanisms. An evolutionary approach to forecasting biases gainsunique explanatory power when it predicts effects contrary to more general social-cognitive explanations. Let us consider one such example under the framework of Haselton and Buss’s(2000, 2003) Error Management Theory (EMT). According to EMT, some biases ininformation processing should not be viewed as deviations from normative standards butrather as adaptive responses given the problems faced by our ancestors during the courseof evolutionary history. EMT proposes that three conditions be met before a bias can betermed adaptive. First, the decision to be made must involve uncertainty and the potentialfor judgmental errors. Second, the outcome of the decision must have had recurrenteffects on fitness over evolutionary history. Third, decision outcomes must haveasymmetrical fitness consequences, such that the costs and benefits of opposing decisionshave had markedly different impacts on fitness over evolutionary history (Haselton &Buss, 2000; 2003). People may often make affective forecasts about events that meet Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  20. 20. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingthese criteria. Take, for example, the case of a man deciding whether to ask a woman out 20on a date. Presumably, a prediction of how he will feel if rejected by the woman wouldinfluence his decision to ask her out. This problem meets the EMT criteria for an adaptivebias. It (a) involves uncertainty, (b) involves behavioral outcomes of evolutionaryconsequence, and (c) involves an asymmetry of fitness consequences as a function ofdecision outcome (a tendency to underestimate feelings of rejection or embarrassmentand thus approach women is presumably less evolutionarily costly than overestimatingrejection and not approaching at all). Importantly, an EMT approach to this particularforecasting problem predicts underestimation of affect intensity, while most otherresearch would predict overestimation. We suggest that such a domain-specific,evolution-based approach to affective forecasting and decision-making might be fruitfulin yielding novel predictions not readily derived from other theories. Summary. Although we may indeed be biased forecasters, such bias may not bedisadvantageous from an evolutionary perspective. While overestimation is pervasive, itis not necessarily bad for human survival and may in fact be evolutionarily functional inmany instances. More generally, taking an evolutionary approach to affective forecastingmay not only reveal when forecasting biases prove functional, but can also yieldinteresting and novel predictions about when underestimation in affective predictionsmay occur.IIV. Do affective forecasting errors matter? While affective forecasting errors may not impair or may even promote thesurvival of our species, these errors have important consequences for individuals andsocieties. Of course, many affective forecasting studies demonstrate that people Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  21. 21. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingmispredict their future feelings by just one to two points on 7-9 point scales (e.g., Buehler 21& McFarland, 2001; Dunn et al., 2003; Lam et al., in press; Wilson et al, 2000). Yet, theshortcomings of emotional time travel revealed by these systematic errors hold importantimplications for happiness, health, public policy, economics and interpersonalrelationships. Clearly, errors in emotional time travel may interfere with the pursuit ofhappiness. As discussed by Gilbert and Wilson (2000), people often “miswant,” leadingthem to seek out things that will not increase their happiness or fervently avoid thingsthat will not decrease their happiness. Interestingly, people may fall into these traps ofemotional time travel even when they consciously recognize what matters for theirhappiness. For example, while realizing that climate is relatively unimportant for well-being, people expect living in California to increase happiness significantly (Schkade &Kahneman, 1997). And while realizing that the quality of a house’s physical featuresmatter less than the quality of the other human beings inside it, people readily neglect thelatter and focus on the former (Dunn et al., 2003). Thus, the pitfalls of emotional timetravel may frequently throw people off course, leading them to pursue goals whosefruition may produce little happiness. Affective forecasting errors also have important implications for both physicaland mental health. People may delay getting tested for serious health problems in partbecause they anticipate lasting misery if the test reveals unwanted results. Yet, such direforecasts may be inaccurate; Sieff, Dawes, & Loewenstein(1999) found some evidencethat people overestimate the extremity of their long-term reactions to receiving positiveor negative HIV-test results. Similarly, people seem to overestimate how unhappy they Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  22. 22. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingwould be while undergoing treatment for a serious disorder (Riis et al., in press), 22suggesting that people may sometimes resist medical treatment because they fail torecognize how readily they will adapt to it. Blindness to the power of the psychologicalimmune system may also lead people to seek out both legal and illegal mood-enhancingdrugs. As already discussed, forecasters bracing themselves for rejection sought outgreater quantities of a mood-enhancing drug than did experiencers who had already facedthe rejection (Wilson et al., 2004), suggesting that people may underestimate their ownability to cope successfully without drugs. Beyond interfering with one’s own health and happiness, affective forecastingerrors have important interpersonal consequences. When faced with the challenge ofunderstanding how another person feels in a given situation, people typically begin bypredicting how they themselves would feel in the situation and then adjust for differencesbetween themselves and others (Van Boven & Loewenstein, 2003; Van Boven,Loewenstein, & Dunning, in press; Van Boven, Loewenstein, & Dunning, 2003; VanBoven, Dunning, & Loewenstein, 2000 Van Boven & Loewenstein, in press). Therefore,to the extent that people mispredict their own feelings, they may also misunderstandothers’ feelings and their corresponding behaviors. For example, because people fail toforesee that owning an object will increase their own affection for it, they also fail toanticipate that others will show this endowment effect (Van Boven et al., 2000; VanBoven et al., 2003). As a result, buyers systematically underestimate how much ownerswill demand for an object, while owners overestimate how much buyers would willinglypay (Van Boven et al., 2000; Van Boven et al., 2003). This interpersonal empathy gaphas serious economic consequences in that fewer successful transactions can be achieved. Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  23. 23. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective ForecastingNegative social consequences may arise as well. If people fail to understand others’ 23emotions, then the behaviors corresponding to these unpredicted emotions are likely toseem inappropriate and may be viewed as evidence of undesirable personality traits;when owners and buyers were asked why their transaction had failed, they typicallyattributed the failure to the other person’s greed, rather than recognizing that theendowment effect might be responsible for the gap in object valuation between ownersand buyers (Van Boven et al., 2000). On a broader level, interpersonal empathy gaps may hinder successfulpolicymaking. If policymakers fail to predict how they themselves would feel if theywere in the position of a struggling single mother, a heroin addict, or a juveniledelinquent, they may wrongly infer that behaviors exhibited by members of these groupsreflect undesirable personality traits and may create policies that treat members of thesegroups unfairly (Loewenstein, 1996; Van Boven & Loewenstein, in press). Ordinarycitizens may also fall into this trap when serving as jurors. Woodzicka and LaFrance(2001) found that women tend to mispredict how they would feel and behave in responseto sexual harassment; whereas women expect to feel angry and to confront the harasser,they are more likely to experience fear and therefore avoid confrontation. If jurorsmispredict how boldly they themselves would respond to sexual harassment, then theymay take a negative view of a plaintiff who claims she was sexually harassed but fearedconfronting her harasser. Thus, to the extent that people fail to predict their ownemotional reactions to events, they may have difficulty understanding how a “reasonablewoman” or “reasonable person” would behave, casting doubt on the validity of thesestandards in legal cases. Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  24. 24. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecasting This is not to say that affective forecasting errors always have negative 24consequences. Dunn and Finn (2005) found that people who overestimated the emotionalbenefits of interacting with their romantic partner exhibited strong relationship stability ayear later, controlling for initial relationship satisfaction. Though correlational, thisfinding suggests that optimistic forecasting errors may sometimes promote successfulrelationships. In a similar vein, Gilbert, Brown, Pinel, and Wilson (2000) found thatpeople’s blindness to the power of their own psychological immune systems led them toattribute unexpected happiness to the benevolent intervention of an omniscient externalagent. According to Gilbert et al. (2000), this blindness may support people’s comfortingbelief that their world is guarded by a powerful and caring god. Thus, affectiveforecasting errors may contribute to both relationship stability and divine belief. Summary. Affective forecasting errors can interfere with both intrapersonal andinterpersonal functioning. Falling into the traps of emotional time travel may impairindividuals’ health and happiness and may lead them to misunderstand others’ feelingsand behaviors. Interpersonal misunderstandings that stem from poor emotional timetravel may also undermine successful economic transactions and policymaking. Yet,affective forecasting errors may also have important positive consequences, which futureresearch may help to further identify.Conclusions The research reviewed in this chapter underscores the importance of everydayemotional time travel. People’s predictions about how they will feel in the future shapemany of their decisions, though under certain conditions people place surprisingly littleweight on their affective forecasts in decision-making. Supporting the validity of Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
  25. 25. Emotional Time Travel: Progress on Key Issues in Affective Forecastingdecisions that are based on affective forecasts, most studies suggest that forecasts do 25reliably predict experiences, though we know relatively little about when, why, and forwhom the relationship between forecasts and experiences is stronger or weaker. We doknow that specific biases in forecasting can be readily eliminated, and there is asmattering of recent evidence that some people may be better forecasters than others.Finally, while common forms of affective forecasting errors may not interfere with thesurvival of our species, the shortcomings of emotional time travel have importantramifications for individual, interpersonal, and societal well-being. ReferencesArntz, A. & van den Hout, M. (1988). Generalizability of the match-mismatch model of fear. Behavior Research and Therapy, 28, 249-253.Arntz, A., van Eck, M., & Heijmans, M. (1990).Predictions of dental pain: The fear of any expected evil is worse than the evil itself. Behavior Research and Therapy, 28, 29-41.Brackett, M. A., Dunn, E. W., & Schneiderman (2005). [Emotional intelligence and Wali Memon |http://walimemon.com
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