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.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

"Stanley" (A Tribute to Milgram)

Few, if any, social psychologists are better known -- by his studies, if not by his name -- than Stanley Milgram (1933-1984).

What's so interesting is that he is best known in one discipline for one line of research (the obedience studies, within social psychology), whereas his fame in another discipline derives from an entirely different line of research (the small-world/six-degrees-of-separation study, within social-network research). Both of these lines of research have inspired dramatic portrayals, such as movies and plays, and they continue to be analyzed and debated today.

Milgram conducted a number of other clever, off-beat studies that never failed to offer some type of insight into human nature in our social world. One of my favorites, to which one of the verses in the song alludes, is his study of gawking up at tall buildings. The more confederates Milgram and his colleagues stationed at the building and had stare up at the top, the more likely passersby were to start looking up, too (see Item 4 in the following lecture outline).

Milgram also has a website devoted to his work, and now he has a song!


Stanley (A Tribute to Milgram)
Lyrics by Alan Reifman
(May be sung to the tune of “Dandy,” Ray Davies, popularized by The Kinks and Herman’s Hermits)

Stanley, Stanley,
You were so creative,
Oh so innovative,
In the lab and out,
Your studies, without doubt,
Never ceased to surprise,
Oh, they were done by,

Stanley, Stanley,
How people follow orders,
Crossing humane borders,
You did investigate,
A storm did you create,
What we learned did amaze,
And this was done by,

Stanley, Stanley,
Wrote scientific papers,
From gawking at skyscrapers,
Who’d have thought to ascertain,
’Bout something so mundane?
Studies out in the world,
Oh, they were done by,

Stanley, Stanley, Stanley…

Stanley, your legacy will always last,
The studies, you know their time is never past,
Today we, reflect on, your quirky ideas,
And wonder what else would,
Have come from your creative mind,
The field wants to know,
Will there be any more of your kind?

Stanley, Stanley,
How to forward a letter,
Became a real trend-setter,
Transmission showed such ease,
We talk of six degrees,
’Round the globe or down the hall,
The world is so small,

Stanley, Stanley, Stanley…

Your work we’ll always cite,
We will cite,
We will cite…
(Fade out)



The above song should be pretty straightforward. Each of three lines of research discussed in my introduction is the subject of one of the verses, whereas the other sections offer more general impressions.

Further Reading

Many sources are listed in the References section of the Wikipedia page on Milgram and on this special page created by Milgram biographer Thomas Blass. Also see...

Milgram, S., Bickman, L., & Berkowitz, L. (1969). Note on the drawing power of crowds of different size. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 13, 79-82.

(Note: A friend of mine, Francine Rosselli, used to have her classes conduct replication studies of the gawking-at-buildings study. The most recent e-mail address I can find for her, if anyone wants further information, is: .)

Watts, D.J. (2003). Six degrees: The science of a connected age. New York: Norton.