Focalism A Source of Durability Bias in Affective Forecasting

Focalism A Source Of Durability Bias In Affective Forecasting-Free PDF

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Undoubtedly people know a great deal about what will make them happy Most of us. recognize that it would be better to ask the genie for good health true love and lots of. money than for severe arthritis a dysfunctional marriage and the minimum wage. However predictions about the affective consequences of future events may not always. be correct Miswanting is the case in which people do not like or dislike an event as much. as they thought they would Gilbert Wilson 2000 Mitchell Thompson Peterson. Cronk 1997, Gilbert and Wilson 2000 identified a number of sources of miswanting Sometimes for. example an affective forecast is based on a faulty understanding of exactly what the. event will entail When people think about winning a million dollars they probably. imagine spacious mansions round the world trips and a cavalier attitude toward their. children s college tuition They might not anticipate the difficulty of maintaining. relationships with envious friends the hundreds of annoying phone calls from needy. people seeking handouts and the late night worries about taxes and investments The. events that we imagine occurring are often quite different from the events that actually. occur Griffin Ross 1991, Even if people know exactly what will happen however they can still make inaccurate. forecasts about the affective consequences of that event This is particularly true when. people think about the duration of their affective reactions They may know exactly what. winning a million dollars entails and may accurately predict that they will be ecstatic. when Ed McMahon arrives at their doorstep and hands them a check with lots of zeros. They might overestimate however the duration of this ecstasy Gilbert and Wilson. 2000 argued that people often overestimate the duration of their emotional reactions to. future events This durability bias is important because people typically wish for and. work toward events that they believe will cause lasting happiness not just a moment s. pleasure If they overestimate how long their pleasure will last they might be working. toward the wrong things, Gilbert Pinel Wilson Blumberg and Wheatley 1998 found evidence for the durability. bias in six studies that examined the accuracy of people s affective forecasts In one. study assistant professors predicted that their tenure decision would have an impact on. their happiness for several years whereas former assistant professors who had achieved. tenure were no happier than former assistant professors who had not In another study. voters in a gubernatorial election predicted that they would be significantly happier a. month after the election if their candidate won than if their candidate lost In fact the. supporters of the winning and losing candidates were just as happy a month after the. election as they were before the election Wilson Meyers and Gilbert 1999 replicated. this result in a study of the 1996 presidential election Democrats predicted that they. would be substantially happier the week after the election if President Clinton were. victorious in fact they were no happier following the election than they had been before. Republicans predicted that they would be substantially less happy if President Clinton. were victorious in fact they were only slightly less happy than they were before The. durability bias has proved to be a robust phenomena obtained in diverse samples of. people who made predictions about both short term and long term events Gilbert et al. 1998 Wilson et al 1999, One cause of the durability bias is immune neglect which is the failure to take into. account how much one s psychological immune system will ameliorate reactions to. negative events When something bad happens people work hard to reconstrue the event. in ways that make it less painful Because the psychological immune system operates. largely outside of awareness people do not take it into account when forecasting their. future emotional reactions They overpredict the duration of their reactions to future. negative events because they do not appreciate the extent to which they will transform the. events psychologically in a way that blunts their impact. Gilbert et al 1998 noted that immune neglect is not the only cause of the durability. bias Indeed because the psychological immune system works to ameliorate negative. affect but not positive affect Taylor 1991 immune neglect explains only. mispredictions about the duration of reactions to negative events Consistent with this. prediction Gilbert et al 1998 found a stronger durability bias in reaction to negative. than to positive events There was however a positive durability bias in some of their. studies In subsequent research we have found significant positive durability biases such. as the Wilson et al 1999 study in which Democrats overpredicted how happy they. would be after President Clinton s 1996 reelection Clearly an additional mechanism is. needed to explain these findings, We suggest that there is also a problem of focalism whereby people focus too much on.
the occurrence in question termed the focal event and fail to consider the consequences. of other events that are likely to occur 1 People think about the focal event in a vacuum. without reminding themselves that their lives will not occur in a vacuum but will be filled. with many other events As noted by Tatarkiewicz 1962 1976 p 111 in the opening. quote people make no provision for other occurrences when predicting their happiness. following a positive or negative event, Other occurrences can mitigate the effects of a focal event in a number of ways such as. by reducing how much people think about the event causing people to reframe the event. and by triggering affective reactions that compete with or nullify the consequences of the. event We will focus on the first of these possibilities namely that by failing to consider. the occurrence of other future events people overestimate how much the focal event will. occupy their thoughts and influence their happiness When imagining a positive tenure. decision for example assistant professors might not think about other events that will. compete for their attention such as the upcoming deadline for the chapter they have yet. to write the dinner party they are hosting in a week and the fact that their car needs a. new battery By failing to consider other occurrences such as these they will. overestimate how much they will think about their tenure decision. Given that some aspects of people s lives are predictable for example professors know. what their teaching schedule will be the following semester and that they will have to. endure several boring committee meetings people are capable of taking some nonfocal. events into account when predicting their future happiness Because many aspects of the. future are unpredictable it would be unfair to chastise people for not taking into account. events that they cannot know will occur How could people anticipate that their car. battery will die the week after their tenure decision Our point is that whatever happens. after the event will compete for people s attention regardless of whether these events are. unpredictable the demise of a car battery or predictable boring committee meetings. playing with our children reading a good book or puttering around the vegetable. garden Research on subjective well being suggests that people s attention turns quickly. to their current concerns reducing the impact of past events on their happiness. Frederick Loewenstein 1999 Suh Diener Fujita 1996 People do not have to be. clairvoyant to appreciate this fact when making affective forecasts. The focalism hypothesis is related to other well known instances in which people give. disproportionate weight to accessible information Higgins 1996 Schwarz 1990 For. example when people explain why a given hypothesis might be true they focus too. much on reasons supporting the hypothesis and too little on reasons for alternative. hypotheses Similarly when asked to imagine a specific behavior such as giving blood. people focus too much on ways in which the behavior could occur and too little on ways. in which the behavior might not occur for reviews see Anderson Krull Weiner 1996. Koehler 1991 Even when asked to think about ways in which an event might not. have occurred people tend to focus on a limited range of alternatives that are easy to. bring to mind at the expense of alternatives that are more difficult to imagine. Kahneman Miller 1986 Kahneman Tversky 1982 Roese Olson 1997 People. are often content to focus on what comes to mind easily without making the effort to. think about alternative explanations scenarios outcomes or beliefs Gilbert 1991. Similarly when people forecast their future happiness after an emotional event they. focus too much on that event People could in principle go beyond what is accessible. and think about the many other things that will occupy their future lives Consistent with. the research just mentioned however we hypothesize that when making affective. forecasts people focus too much on the focal event and too little on other events that will. also transpire and require their attention, If so then it should be possible to reduce the durability bias by inducing people to think. about the many other events that will transpire in the future That is if focalism is a cause. of the durability bias then reducing focalism by inducing people to think about nonfocal. events should reduce this bias If people are thinking not only about their tenure decision. but also about what their future teaching schedule will be like and how often they will. have to attend committee meetings they should make more accurate estimates of the. extent to which their tenure decision will influence their happiness This hypothesis. follows directly from studies in other areas that have asked people to go beyond the most. accessible explanation or hypothesis that comes to mind by thinking about alternative. explanations and hypotheses e g Hirt Markman 1995 Our studies followed the. same logic by asking people to think about other events that would transpire in the. future in addition to the focal event, Specifically we asked people to predict their overall level of happiness after an. emotional event with the expectation that they would overestimate how long that event. would have an impact on their happiness the durability bias Before making their. predictions some participants completed a prospective diary ostensibly as part of. another study in which they rated how much time they would spend on a variety of. everyday activities on a specific future date We hypothesized that people who completed. the diary would predict that they would think less about the focal event in the future and. that it would have less impact on their future happiness than would people who did not. complete the diary In studies 1 3 we tested these hypotheses with college football fans. who predicted how happy they would be after a win and a loss by their college football. team whereas in Studies 4 5 we examined people s predicted happiness after. hypothetical national events such as a space tragedy in which several astronauts were. Study 1 They Foresaw a Game,Method Overview, College football fans at the University of Virginia UVA and Virginia Polytechnic. Institute and State University Virginia Tech predicted what their level of overall. happiness would be immediately after the UVA Virginia Tech football game and on. each of the succeeding few days if their school lost and if their school won the game. They also predicted how much they would think about the game Prior to making these. predictions some participants completed a prospective diary questionnaire on which. they rated how much time they would spend on a variety of everyday activities in the. days after the football game We hypothesized that people in the diary condition relative. to people in a no diary control condition would predict that their happiness would not be. as influenced by the outcome of the game and that they would think less about the game. Participants, Participants were 36 students 19 women 17 men from UVA and 52 students from.
Virginia Tech 27 women 25 men who indicated that they were football fans and cared. about the outcome of their school s football games that is they were above the median. on the average of these two measures which were highly correlated r 71 The. students participated for partial fulfillment of a requirement in an undergraduate. psychology course, Participants completed a prediction questionnaire 1 2 months prior to the 1995 football. game between UVA and Virginia Tech in small groups or during class meetings They. were told that the packet contained questionnaires from different research projects and. that they should go through the packet one page at a time without looking ahead. Diary manipulation, Approximately half the participants randomly assigned first received a questionnaire. labeled diary study on which they were asked to think about a specific day later in the. semester and to estimate what they would be doing that day They estimated the number. of hours they would spend on 10 activities e g going to class socializing with friends. studying eating meals on a 7 point scale that ranged from no time to four or more hours. They then filled in 24 blanks 1 for each hour of the day according to what they thought. The durability bias the tendency to overpredict the duration of affective reactions to future events may be due in part to focalism whereby people focus too much on the event in question and not enough on the consequences of other future events If so asking people to think about other future activities should reduce the durability bias In

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