The more I read about how our brains work, the more I get fascinated by how clever and dumb it is at the same time. All these biases we have, created to safeguard us, can also make our lives difficult. Today, I would like to introduce the Impact Bias, or how our brain makes us overestimate the emotional consequences of a future event.
Here is a short and comprehensive document explaining what the Impact Bias is. To summarize, when we project ourselves in a future situation, good or bad, we tend to overestimate the intensity or length of how we are going to feel about that situation.
In other words, we are wrong about what we think we are going to feel in the future. I am sure there are a lot of researchers out there that can provide a more in-depth psychological analysis of this bias, but I wanted to throw in my two cents ideas on how we can be aware of it for the better.
Impact Bias and Happiness
I guess there are many other examples of this: stress before an exam, important meeting or doctor's appointment because we fear how awful the moment is going to be. In fact, the stress and dread part might be worse than the moment itself.
But when we brood these negative thoughts and imagine how bad that will be, how about calming down, making a cup of tea and remind ourselves that we are probably overestimating these future emotions right now, then focus back on the present and enjoy the moment instead? It is probably easier said than done, but time after time, it may actually help dealing with stress and the like.
Impact Bias and Consumption
This Impact Bias seems to have effect on our consumption: since we overestimate how happy this new object is going to make us, we buy it. Then, once we have it, we realize we are not as happy as we thought, and lust for a new one all over again. This is one of the components of the consumerist circle.
So, next time you put together a wishlist or think about buying something, remember the Impact Bias. If your motivation to buy this is how happy you imagine it will make you feel, then maybe you should either try to find other reasons for purchase, or reconsider it.
In a way, being aware of the Impact Bias can be a great way to slowly reconsider the emotional attachement we have towards material purchases and consumption, and help shifting priorities back to what really matters: loved ones, self actualization, creation or discoveries...
More on the Impact Bias and Happiness on this TED talk