Monday, March 23, 2009

Emotional forecasting: The weather man is your friend!

Some of you may recall my earlier success at understanding article titles in the journal Science. Well, I did it again! I score another 100% with a fascinating study published this week titled “The surprising power of neighborly advice”.

The researchers begin their article by insulting us, suggesting that we are terrible at guessing how we’re going to feel about future events. I personally disagree, I’m pretty sure I know just how good it’s going to feel to one day finish my PhD! I’m going to be ecstatic! I’m going to be elated! I’m going to cry with joy! You get my point. Anyway, the researchers suggest otherwise, saying we often overestimate how happy we’d be to say, win the lottery (yeah, right!), as well as overestimate how unhappy we’d be to say, not get a promotion. That’s because our strategy to estimate our reaction to future events is to imagine them, but apparently we’re bad at that too (so far, it’s not looking good). So we make mistakes. But there is hope! Their research suggests that we can get a better idea of how we’ll feel during future events, all we need to do is ask a friend.


The study revolved around speed dating (quite a sexy topic when it comes to science!). Women were told they were going on a 5 minute “speed date” with a guy, and they were given one of two types of information about the guy. The first type of information was a document with the guy’s profile: his picture, his background, activities he enjoys doing (long walks on the beach, no doubt), his favorite movie, book, etc. This is called “simulation” information because it made it possible for the woman to imagine what the date would be like. The second type of information was a document with another woman’s appreciation of a speed date with the same guy. This is called “surrogation” information because the woman going into the date can use the woman who already met the guy as a surrogate for herself. Just before meeting the guy, the woman had to tell the researchers how much she thought she’d enjoy the date based on the information she got.
After the date, she gave a report of how much she actually did enjoy the date.

The outcome of the study is two-fold. First, the women were way more accurate in their prediction of how much they’d enjoy the date if they used surrogation information (another women’s point of view). Second, opposite to what worked best in reality, most of the women believed that simulation information would allow them to make the most accurate prediction about their date. Even more surprising, over 80% of the women indicated they would chose simulation over surrogation information to make a prediction about a future date with a different guy.


How is this relevant? Well, it tells us that the best way to make a decision that’s right for us is to get advice from others. It also tells us that we tend not to take advantage of this type of information, even though it can be quite useful. A great example of surrogation information is “review” websites such as epinions and dinehere. When going to buy their next electronic gizmo or dine out at a new restaurant, more and more people will check for neighbourly advice online rather than just trusting the ‘specs’ or the menu. There’s nothing like the cover of anonymity to tell the world what you really think of it…

After reading this study it sounded like I needed to double check just how I’ll feel about finishing my PhD with my fellow labmates who’ve been there, and yes it’s confirmed: I’ll be crying with joy. And doing the happy dance.




Cartoon courtesy of Doug at www.savagechickens.com

3 Responses to “Emotional forecasting: The weather man is your friend!”

Interesting. Did they offer any explanation (or do any study) on WHY we tend to not use surrogation?

They do, actually. They say that we assume other people aren't like us, so their experience wouldn't be relevant. They then proceed to make a case for the fact that we are all quite a bit alike, and this is especially true of the people you surround yourself with.

Thanks for the comment!

Allison said...

Nice post which The researchers begin their article by insulting us, suggesting that we are terrible at guessing how we’re going to feel about future eventst. That’s because our strategy to estimate our reaction to future events is to imagine them, but apparently we’re bad at that too.Thanks a lot for posting.

 
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