Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/Affective forecasting
What is affective forecasting and how does it influence our lives?
Most of what we do as humans involves an expectation or prediction of how we will feel after engaging in a particular behaviour. If I finish the housework today, leaving tomorrow completely free to do what I want, how will I feel? What would happen if I were to get caught stealing from a shop? Surely, most people would predict strong feeling of remorse and guilt as a result of committing a crime, and thus most people chosenot to steal in order to avoid theses emotions. Affective forecasting is the attempt we make to predict how we are going to react emotionally to behaving in a certain way, or choosing to do one thing instead of another (Wilson & Gilbert, 2005). When we think about it, all of the decisions we make in life, big or small, are made with an expectation of how doing these things will make us feel. For this reason, affective forecasting is a hugely important factor in how we chose to live our lives, and the sense of happiness and fulfilment we may or may not derive from the choices we make.
While we, as humans are generally quite accurate in predicting whether doing something will cause us to feel good or bad about our actions, or as it is termed in psychological research, our affective valence (Wilson & Gilbert, 2005)–relating to emotions being positive (happiness, belonging, feeling proud) or negative (sadness, guilt etc), there are a lot of mistakes that most people make in affective forecasting (Wilson & Gilbert, 2005). Recognising and understanding some of these errors could be useful in helping us to make better decisions in the future (Dunn et al, 2007). Additionally, looking into some of the key features which seem to be present in individuals who can more accurately predict their future emotions will broaden our understanding of the topic. One main feature which has been linked with individuals who are able to make more accurate affective forecasts is emotional intelligence (Dunn et al, 2007)(Hoerger et al, 2012). People who score higher in measures of emotional intelligence seem to be better at predicting how future events will make them feel (Hoerger et al, 2012). One of the more specific mechanisms behind this is that in individuals with higher scores of emotional intelligence, there appears to be a greater ability in the encoding and retrieval of affect related memories(Hoerger et al, 2012). What this means is that people who can more precisely rely on memories of past experiences, and how these experiences made them feel, are going to be able to use this information to in their affective forecasting.
Errors in affective forecasting
As it has been mentioned above, people are generally quite accurate in predicting the valence of their affecting when forecasting how doing something will make them feel. For example if you were to predict that winning the soccer match on the weekend would make you feel good, you would most likely be correct. While this type of forecasting seems relatively straightforward, the complexities arise when other factors such as the intensity of emotion, or how long the emotion will last after something has been done. So, winning the soccer match will make me feel good, but how good? And for how long after the game will I continue to feel good? It is in predicting the answers to questions like this that we start makes errors in our affective forecasting.
A common bias relating to affective forecasting is the impact bias (Wilson and Gilbert, 2000). It has been shown that people regularly overestimate the intensity of their emotions as a result of doing something(Wilson and Gilbert, 2000). So back into our soccer example, research has shown that while we can predict that we will feel good if we win the game, we tend to over predict just how good winning will make us feel. One commonly accepted factor which seems to influence this bias is called focalism (Wilson et al, 2000). Focalism refers to our tendency to only focus on one particular event in the future, and to neglect other things happening in our lives which will also have an effect on our emotions and how we feel. When we are thinking about how good winning the soccer match will make us feel, often we forget to take into consideration some of the other things happening in our lives. For instance, you might have an assignment which needs to be finished off for school the day after the soccer match, or right after the game you have to babysit your younger siblings and have to stay in that night. These other factors, which have a negative valence in this case will detract somewhat from the good feeling of winning the soccer match, and are often neglected as part of an affective prediction (Wilson et al, 2000).
Predicting how long we will feel a certain way after we have done something is another area which we can be prone to error (Gilbert et al, 1998). Research has shown that people tend to overestimate how long they will feel a negative emotion after they have done something (Gilbert et al, 1998). For example, say you were to imagine losing your wallet on the bus. It has been shown that your expectation of how long you would feel emotions such as sadness, anger or embarrassment would be longer than it would actually end up being, were you to actually lose your wallet (Gilbert et al, 1998). People tend to think that "getting over" something bad will take more time than it usually does.
The concept of "immune neglect" has been argued to be important in explaining why people are prone to this durability bias (Gilbert et al, 1998). Immune neglect refers to our emotional immune systems, which as the name suggests, function in a similar manner to our physiological immune systems (Gilbert et al, 1998). Where our physiological immune system fights to protect us from infection and illness, the emotional immune system fights to protect us from psychological illness, and helps us get over stressful or traumatic events (Gilbert et al, 1998). When the issue of "immune neglect" arises, there is the notion that the effects of our emotional immune systems are not taken into account when we make affective forecasts (Gilbert et al, 1998). So, if we were to imagine losing our wallet on the bus, it is likely that in most instances, we wouldn't factor in our ability to cope with this hardship, therefore leading to an exaggerated sense of how long after the event we would continue to experience negative emotions.
Another bias in affective forecasting, called loss aversion, relates to how we predict how much a loss of some form will cause us to feel (Kermer et al, 2016). A "loss" can be defined in this instance as a range of things; it could be losing money gambling, or losing a job. Loss aversion alters our perception of how bad we would feel if we were to experience a loss (Kermer et al, 2016). Research has shown that people tend to think that experiencing a loss will make them feel worse than if they were to experience an equivalent gain (Kermer et al, 2016). A good example of this was demonstrated by Kermer et al (2006) where participants expected to feel stronger negative emotions when they lost a sum of money than they would feel positive emotion were they to gain the same amount. So, while the amount of money remained constant, the participants showed an aversion to losing. Once the participants had actually lost the money, they didn’t feel as bad as initially anticipated.
Understanding how errors and biases can influence affective forecasting can be helpful for us to consider when making decisions. Taking consideration of how our perception of how events in the future will make us feel and accounting for our own inaccuracies in affective forecasting could lead to a greater overall satisfaction with life.
For instance, our understanding of the impact bias tells us that things we consider to have a huge effect on us, might not affect us as powerfully as we imagine when they actually happen. With this in mind, and keeping focussed on other parts of our lives, which may get forgotten about or neglected as a result of a strong focus on one particular event, a greater overall life quality might be achieved.
What we have learned from examining the durability bias and learning about the emotional immune system, is that we seem to be able to move on, and get over bad things in our lives faster than we think we can. Knowing this can be useful in being perhaps less afraid to take some more risks or worrying that we won't be able to cope with upcoming hurdles in our lives. It also gives us faith in our unconscious ability to cope with stressful events through our minds' own defence system.
Loss aversion gives us a similar insight to durability bias, that our minds seem perhaps too occupied with worrying about what if something goes wrong, or I lose. Understanding that we seem to be more averse to losing, than we are when anticipating an equivalent gain, tells us a lot when we are making affective forecasts – that again, we might be avoiding situations in life because of this aversion from failure, or loss, when in fact there are possible gains to be made which might not have initially been factored into the equation. Overall, considering some of these insights in future decision making could be helpful in making more worthwhile choices, or at least give us a greater understanding of how our predictions of affect can be influenced.
Dunn, E., Brackett, M., Ashton-James, C., Schneiderman, E., & Salovey, P. (2007). On Emotionally Intelligent Time Travel: Individual Differences in Affective Forecasting Ability. Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin, 33(1), 85-93. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0146167206294201
Gilbert, D., Pinel, E., Wilson, T., Blumberg, S., & Wheatley, T. (1998). Immune neglect: A source of durability bias in affective forecasting. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 75(3), 617-638. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037//0022-35126.96.36.1997
Hoerger, M., Chapman, B., Epstein, R., & Duberstein, P. (2012). Emotional intelligence: A theoretical framework for individual differences in affective forecasting. Emotion, 12(4), 716-725. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0026724
Kermer, D., Driver-Linn, E., Wilson, T., & Gilbert, D. (2006). Loss Aversion Is an Affective Forecasting Error. Psychological Science, 17(8), 649-653. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01760.x
Wilson, T., & Gilbert, D. (2005). Affective Forecasting. Current Directions In Psychological Science, 14(3), 131-134. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.0963-7214.2005.00355.x
Wilson, T., Wheatley, T., Meyers, J., Gilbert, D., & Axsom, D. (2000). Focalism: A source of durability bias in affective forecasting. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 78(5), 821-836. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037//0022-35188.8.131.521