Saturday, July 21, 2007

"Feeling Good" (Affective Forecasting)

Most of the lyrics I've written thus far, for the previous songs posted below and for several that have not yet been posted, pertain to programs of research that go back 40 years or more. I definitely want to incorporate some contemporary topics, and I will do so with the present posting.

Today's lyrics attempt to tell the story of "affective forecasting," a line of research developed by Daniel Gilbert of Harvard and Tim Wilson of the University of Virginia. They have demonstrated that people don't seem to be as good as might be expected, at predicting how some event (e.g., a win or loss by a favorite sports team or political candidate) will make them feel over time.

Gilbert and Wilson's general paradigm is to ask participants how they expect they would feel after a positive or negative outcome to some event. Then, perhaps a few weeks later, after the outcome of the event is known, participants are re-contacted and asked how happy or sad they are. Their actual emotional responses to the event can then be compared to how they predicted they would react under those circumstances.

Events that we think will devastate us don't necessarily do so, nor do we tend to feel as ecstatic as we might have expected, after the occurrence of something good. In this interview about his book Stumbling on Happiness, Gilbert gives some background on affective forecasting.



Feeling Good
Lyrics by Alan Reifman
(May be sung to the tune of “I’m Into Something Good,” Goffin/King, popularized by Herman’s Hermits)

(Back-up vocals in parentheses)

You think we’d know, what makes us happy,
But Gilbert and Wilson say, we can’t see,
What our emotions will be, out in futurehood,
(What our emotions will be in futurehood)
Can we foresee when we’ll be feeling good?
(Can we foresee when we’ll be feeling good?)

Events you think, will make you feel fine,
May end up just being a waste of time,
’Cause we don’t imagine details, as much as we could,
(We don’t imagine details, as much as we could)
Can we foresee when we’ll be feeling good?
(Can we foresee when we’ll be feeling good?)

Oh, Dan and Tim, and their scholarly crew,
Did their studies, and published a slew,
But Gilbert's book, with its style and wit,
Brought the research, to a mass public,
Brought it to a mass public,

Think you can predict, to that you’ll vow,
But forecasts are colored by what’s happenin’ now,
We can’t see the future as well, as you think we should,
(…can’t see the future as well as we should)
Can we foresee when we’ll be feeling good?
(Can we foresee when we’ll be feeling good?)

(Fade out)

[Lyrics revised on December 4, 2007]


The lyrics should be, for the most part, pretty straightforward. Some of the specific points allude to mechanisms discussed by Gilbert in his book, for how our predictions of future emotional states can go awry.

Gilbert notes, for example, that when we look at a distant object such as a building or mountain, we cannot see the fine details and we know we can't. Our imagination of a temporally distant event similarly lacks fine detail, but in this context, we aren't aware of the deficiency of our perception. We thus imagine the parts of our upcoming vacation in which we are eating in restaurants and engaging in recreational pursuits that we expect to give us pleasure. What we don't mentally rehearse are the missed flight connections, delays in getting our luggage, etc.

The other mechanism cited in the song is what Gilbert calls "presentism," or the power of the present situation to sway our impressions of the future. He gives the example of overeating at Thanksgiving and, thinking his discomfort will persist forever, vows to never eat again.

Further Reading

Gilbert, D.T. (2006). Stumbling on happiness. New York: Knopf.

Gilbert, D.T., Gill, M.J., & WIlson, T.D. (2002). The future is now: Temporal correction in affective forecasting. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 88, 430-444.

Gilbert, D.T., Lieberman, M.D., Morewedge, C.K., & Wilson, T.D. (2004). The peculiar longevity of things not so bad. Psychological Science, 15, 14-19.

Gilbert, D.T., Morewedge, C.K., Risen, J.L., & Wilson, T.D. (2004). Looking forward to looking backward: The misprediction of regret. Psychological Science, 15, 346-350.

Gilbert, D.T., Pinel, E.C., Wilson, T.D., Blumberg, S.J., & Wheatley, T. (1998). Immune neglect: A source of durability bias in affective forecasting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 617-638.

Wilson, T.D., Centerbar, D.B., Kermer, D.A., & Gilbert, D.T. (2005). The pleasures of uncertainty: Prolonging positive moods in ways people do not anticipate. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 5-21.

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