When trying to predict what will make us happy in the future, we naturally rely on beliefs we have acquired with experience. Unfortunately these beliefs about the way our emotions operate are frequently misleading.
Experiments have shown that people have a natural tendency to over-generalise beliefs about their emotions to situations where they don’t apply. Psychologists call these belief biases.
Here are four belief biases that people often display when trying to predict how an event will make them feel in the future:
- The contrast effect
People expect that a good experience will be more enjoyable when it follows a bad experience. In fact research on jelly bean tasting shows that the contrast effect can be a complete mirage created by our expectations. The same is true when bad experiences follow good – there is an expectation that the bad experience will then be even worse, although often it’s not. Perhaps this is part of the reason people think Mondays are more depressing than they really are.
- More choice is not better
People expect that having more options will make them happier, but often it doesn’t. Research with gourmet jams has found people can be happier, and even better motivated, when they have fewer options to choose from. In some situations, no choice at all may be better than choosing between two options – even when both options are equally enticing. Not convinced? Watch this video of Barry Schwartz.
People often expect that repeated exposure to an experience will lessen the pleasure it gives. Research on ice cream, yoghurt and music showed that most people adapted to the taste, either coming to like it more, or at the very least dislike it less.
People expect to feel happier when they have reduced the uncertainty in a situation. Often, though, mystery can increase pleasure.
Fighting the belief biases
The amount that we are swayed by each of these biases depends on how much we believe in them. So, just reading, remembering and believing (!) this post should allow you fight back against the belief biases, helping you to make decisions that will increase your future happiness.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
[Image credit: bubbo-tubbo]
→ This post is part of a series on cognitive biases:
- The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Why The Incompetent Don’t Know They’re Incompetent
- The Worse-Than-Average Effect: When You’re Better Than You Think
- Why You’re a Sucker for the Impact Bias
- The Hindsight Bias: I Knew It All Along!
- How to Overcome the Egocentric Bias
- See How Easily You Can Avoid The Memory Bias
- 4 Belief Biases That Can Reduce Pleasure
- Does Delaying Decisions Lead to Better Outcomes?
- The Belief in a Just World: A Fundamental Delusion
- Why Society Doesn’t Change: The System Justification Bias
- The Availability Bias: Why People Buy Lottery Tickets
- The Illusion of Transparency
- The Illusion of Control: Are There Benefits to Being Self-Deluded?
- The Endowment Effect: Why It’s Easy to Overvalue Your Stuff
- Illusory Correlations: When The Mind Makes Connections That Don’t Exist
- Anchoring Effect: How The Mind is Biased by First Impressions
- The Confirmation Bias: Why It’s Hard to Change Your Mind
- The Well-Travelled Road Effect: Why Familiar Routes Fly By
- How a Psychological Bias Makes Groups Feel Good About Themselves And Discredit Others
- The Sobering Up Effect: Why People Get More Pessimistic As The Moment of Truth Gets Closer