Tag Archives: affective forecasting

Clearly-Imagined Future Self Enables More Effective Goal Planning

Most people choose near-term payoffs over distant benefits, often leading to poor outcomes when the future arrives.

Hal Hersfield

Hal Hersfield

Many individuals have difficulty envisioning a personal future because a distant time horizon is more abstract than the tangible reality of an extended present.
This bias toward short-term rewards generally leads to inadequate planning for future eventualities, like health care and financial requirements.

However, making the intangible future more concrete alters this near-term preference.

Laura Carstensen

Laura Carstensen

Volunteers received a visual aid to clearly imagining a future self by viewing a current photo of themselves or a digitally-aged photo from the same present-day view in a study by NYU’s Hal Hershfield collaborating with Daniel Goldstein of London Business School, Stanford’s  William F. SharpeLaura CarstensenJeremy Bailenson, and Leo Yeykelis plus Jesse Fox of Ohio State University.

Jeremy Bailenson

Jeremy Bailenson

The team asked participants in each group to estimate the amount of their income they would save for retirement.
People who saw their aged photos said they would save substantially more money than those who saw the present-day image.

Leo Yeykelis

Leo Yeykelis

When participants interacted with realistic, immersive age-progressed renderings of themselves, they tended to defer present rewards for future monetary rewards.

Hershfield and collaborators argued that the aged photos are vivid, less-deniable glimpses of a personal future.
These images enabled people to more realistically imagine their distant future lives by enhancing their experience of “self-continuity” over time.

Jesse Fox

Jesse Fox

Financial planners, health care advisors, and life insurers have applied these findings by developing a commercial version of this future self-image, to enable people to develop more realistic savings and retirement strategies for a tangible future self.

Emily Pronin

Emily Pronin

Another team’s findings supported Hershfield’s suggestion that people view their future selves as “other” and alien rather than personally relevant and meaningful.

Christopher Olivola

Christopher Olivola

Princeton’s Emily Pronin, Christopher Olivola, now of University of Warwick and Kathleen Kennedy, now of Columbia, asked participants to estimate the amount of an unsavory liquid mixture they would be willing to drink immediately and in several months to advance scientific knowledge.
In addition, volunteers estimated the amount of this liquid that another participant should drink.

Kathleen Kennedy

Kathleen Kennedy

Most volunteers judged that they would drink more in the future and that others should drink about the same amount.
However, participants estimated that they would drink only about half as much if consumed immediately.

This suggests that judgments about the future self and unknown other people are similarly distant from the present self.

These time perception biases include:

  • Quasi-hyperbolic time discounting, which leads most people to make an inter-temporal choice for a smaller payoff in the present instead of a larger payoff in the future.
    They attributed this trend to discounting a less-imaginable future payoff for a more tangible, nearer-term benefit.
  • Affective forecasting errors, described in a previous blog post, leading to inaccurate predictions of future choices, preferences, emotional reactions, and behaviors due to:
    • Projection biasAssuming that a present state will occur at a future time in a different circumstance,
    • Impact bias Overestimating future emotional responses to adverse events, and underestimating adaptability and coping,
    • Narrow bracketing — Considering individual decisions and outcomes without reference to context or long-term additive effects with other decisions and circumstances.

-*How do you overcome biases to plan for future goals and needs?

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Reduce “Affective Forecasting” Errors with a Geographic Cure?

People must often make “affective predictions” about choice of life partner, occupation, residence, yet most everyone makes small, but systematic errors in forecasting personal emotional responses.

These misjudgments can negatively affect personal health, happiness, financial well-being, and interpersonal relationships.

Kostadin Kushlev

Kostadin Kushlev

University of British Columbia’s Kostadin Kushlev and Elizabeth Dunn identified these decision biases, and noted that one of the most well-known and widely-occurring affective forecasting errors is impact bias, the tendency to overestimate the intensity of emotional responses to future positive and negative events.

Elizabeth Dunn

Elizabeth Dunn

In addition, Kushlev and Dunn reported that people tend to overestimate the duration of future emotional reactions, labeled durability bias.

Seymour Epstein

Seymour Epstein

Also known as “focalism,” durability bias can occur when people rely on the “rational system” for information processing, according to Seymour Epstein of University of Massachusetts.

His Cognitive-Experiential Self Theory proposes that the “rational system” is used to make affective forecasts, and typically processes information slowly, analytically and abstractly.

Seymour Epstein-CESTIn contrast, the “experiential system” of information processing operates rapidly, associatively, holistically, and concretely.

Shifts between rational (“cold”) and experiential (“hot”) decision systems can cause another bias, “Empathy gap.”

Epstein posits that rational system processing can lead to imagining the event isolated from its broader context that may mitigate its emotional impact.
In this situation, it is easy to focus on distinctive, observable characteristics, and to overvalue these due to their availability rather than their actual future impact.

Relying on the rational system may lead to another error, immune neglect, when people underestimate their likelihood of later reinterpreting future events to reduce negative feelings.

Anna Freud

Anna Freud

Epstein refers to this self-care process as the “psychological immune system” that enables recovery from negatively-tinged emotional events.
This is a more positive reinterpretation of Anna Freud’s focus on defense mechanisms.

Another predictive error, underestimating the power of future affective states can occur when people don’t consider the impact of physical states like hunger and thirst.

Habit-control programs like Alcoholics Anonymous implicitly recognize the tendency to underestimate future emotional states by urging participants to “HALT” while they consider whether problematic urges stem from being “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.”

Sometimes forecasting errors are based on inaccurate theories about the determinants of happiness, such as being able to reverse decisions or having more choices.
In addition, people often overlooked the influence of their own dispositions, such as optimism,  in predicting future feelings.
The result of this error, “personality neglect,” can lead to overestimates of future happiness by people who score high on the personality characteristic “neuroticism.”

Roger Buehler

Roger Buehler

Despite people’s imperfect ability to predict future emotions, whether happy or unhappy, people who expect positive emotions in the future report greater present satisfaction, according to Wilfrid Laurier University’s Roger Buehler, Vassili Spyropoulos and Kent C. H. Lam with Cathy McFarland of Simon Fraser University.

Even if fueled by another thinking error, optimism bias, positive anticipation improves the present moment and may play a central role in each individual’s psychological immune system.

Biases and thinking errors in considering future emotional reactions can be minimized by:

  • Defocusing on the anticipated emotional occurrence
  • Considering emotional outcomes in similar previous experiences
  • Anticipating  consequences of other simultaneous future events
  • Previewing the future state with feedback from others
Chip Heath-Dan Heath

Chip Heath-Dan Heath

Similarly Stanford’s Chip Heath and Dan Heath of Duke Corporate Education suggest mitigating decision bias with WRAP:

  • Widen your options
  • Reality-check your options
  • Attain distance before deciding
  • Prepare to be wrong.
Kristin Weger

Kristin Weger

University of Alabama at Huntsville’s Kristin Weger and Sandra Carpenter demonstrated that “guided flexivity” or “structured reflection” can improve performance on simulation game tasks over multiple trials.
They found that volunteers reduced errors in predicting future emotions by evaluating expectations in comparison to actual experience during a “post-mortem” session to review “lessons learned.”

Sandra Carpenter

Sandra Carpenter

Wegner and Carpenter found that guided reflexivity increased individuals’ awareness of their roles as well as others’ expertise and responsibilities in the target situation.

Other strategies to improve performance and decisions require even more commitment, like finding that living in a more “interdependent” culture like Japan for even a year.

This type of “geographic intervention” results in increased people’s consideration of contextual factors in decision making and creativity.

-*Time to book a flight?

-*How accurate are you in predicting your feelings about a specific choice or situation in the future?

-*How do you detect and mitigate bias in predicting your future emotional reactions?

-*What positive and negative impacts have you observed in affective forecasting errors?

Related Posts

RELATED POSTS:

Twitter:   @kathrynwelds
BlogKathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary
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LinkedIn Open Group Psychology in Human Resources (Organisational Psychology)
Facebook Notes:

©Kathryn Welds