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Decision Making: Affective Forecasting

Framing effects seem to represent a flaw in human decision making: People can be powerfully influenced by a factor that seems to be irrelevant to their choices.

Affective Forecasting

Framing effects seem to represent a flaw in human decision making: People can be powerfully influenced by a factor that seems to be irrelevant to their choices. A second possible flaw lies in the fact that we don’t know ourselves as well as we need to in order to make good decisions. To explore this issue, let’s start with the fact that our decisions almost always involve a prediction about the future. You choose the chocolate ice cream while standing in the grocery store, but this selection rests on the expectation that you’ll enjoy the ice cream that evening, or maybe the next day, when you actually eat it. This may be an easy forecast to make; but let’s be clear that if you mis-predict tomorrow’s preference, your choice today will not serve you well. Likewise, imagine that you’re hoping to find a new roommate. You really like Andy’s sense of humor, and you also know he’ll lend you his car. But you’re concerned about the loud, awful music he listens to. Should you take him on as a roommate? Here you’ll need to make a predic-tion about whether the loud music will continue to annoy you in the months to come. If so, then you should choose someone else as your roommate. But if, in contrast, you’ll soon grow used to the music and barely notice it, then Andy would be a good choice. And, of course, if your prediction about these points is wrong, you may end up creating real headaches for yourself.

In other cases, your prediction is different because it focuses on your future feelings about your own decision. For example, should you take the job offer from the company in Chicago? It’s hard to know how the job will work out, and you don’t know much about Chicago. Therefore, predicting your reaction to the job, and a new city, is difficult. Even so, your decision might be shaped by the worry that if you don’t take the job, you would regret the idea of never having explored the opportunity. To avoid that regret, off to Chicago you go—a decision guided by your prediction of (and your wish to avoid) a feeling of regret.

In all of these examples, the quality of your decisions depends on the quality of your predictions, and this leads us to ask: How good are people at affective forecasting— predicting their own emotional response to upcoming events? In fact, evidence sug-gests that these forecasts are often inaccurate (e.g., D. Gilbert & Wilson, 2007). In one study, for example, people were asked how sad they would be if their current romance came to an end or how upset they’d be if their favorite sports team lost a big game. In these cases, people were usually accurate about whether their future feelings would be positive or negative—but they quite consistently overestimated how strongly, and for how long, they’d react to these events (D. Gilbert, Pinel, Wilson, Blumberg, & Wheatley, 2002; T. Wilson, Wheatley, Meyers, Gilbert, & Axsom, 2000). In yet other studies, people have been asked to predict how much they would regret a decision if it led to a less positive outcome than they’d hoped. Here, too, people were inaccurate and typically predicted more regret than they actually felt when the disappointment actually arrived (D. Gilbert, Morewedge, Risen, & Wilson, 2004).

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