People don't seem to be very accurate in predicting how they would feel after an event, good or bad, concludes a new research study.
But afterwards, they "misremember" what they predicted, revising their prognostications after the fact to match how they actually feel.
Although the process of predicting emotions seems imprecise from start to finish, misremembering predictions might actually be motivating. Trust in one's emotional instincts could be "nature's feedback mechanism to steer us toward actions that are good for us," said psychologist Tom Meyvis, PhD, of New York University.
Our ignorance of this tendency might help keep us motivated to avoid what we expect to be awful and work for what we hope will be great, he suggested.
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, 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?
Across the studies, participants inaccurately predicted their feelings and wrongly recalled their predictions. Indeed, whether an event had been anticipated or dreaded, peoples' revised predictions shifted toward how they actually felt. For example, Eagles fans said in advance they'd hate it if the Patriots won but afterward, they shrugged off the loss and said they always knew they'd be OK.
These findings appear in the November issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, published by the American Psychological Association.