Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Peak-end rule

Some year-end reflection. How was 2014 for you?

While answering the question you will - in all likelihood- apply the “peak-end rule”.

The Peak-end rule, popularised by Daniel Kahneman, is a psychological heuristic in which people judge experiences largely based on how they were at their peak (i.e., their most intense point) and at their end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience. It occurs regardless of whether the experience is pleasant or unpleasant. According to the heuristic, other information aside from that of the peak and end of the experience is not lost, but it is not used. This includes net pleasantness or unpleasantness and how long the experience lasted. (source)
Even if a movie were to be good overall on average, you are more likely to judge it based on a high point (or low) and the end, which is why the director tries to pack more punch in the climax scene. Same thing when it comes to games. A cricket match with a prominent high-point and an exciting finish will be considered a more memorable one compared to one in which the winning team dominated the proceedings throughout.  If a person lives 95% of his life in poverty but strikes a fortune towards the end, he is believed to die happier than a person who was rolling in riches all his life on an average, but lost it all for some reason at the fag end of his life.
So, when judging the year 2014, you would probably give more weightage to the events that happened closer to the end of the year.

In his book, “Being Mortal”,  Atul Gawande cites Kahneman’s peak-end rule while discussing how people evaluate their experiences and their lives in their final stages.
“People seem to have two different selves- an experiencing self who endures every moment equally and a remembering self who gives almost all the weight of judgement afterward to two single points in time, the worst moment and the last one. Just a few minutes without pain at the end of a medical procedure dramatically reduced patients’ overall pain ratings even after they’d experienced more than an hour of high level pain. A bad ending skewed the pain scores upward just as dramatically. ..
In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all of its moments- which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life may be empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves. Unlike your experiencing self- which is absorbed in the moment- your remembering self is attempting to recognise not only the peaks of joy and valleys of misery but also how the story worked out as a whole. This is profoundly affected by how things ultimately turn out. Why would a football fan let a few flubbed moments at the end of the game ruin three hours of bliss? Because a football game is a story. And in stories, endings matter.
When our time is limited and we are uncertain how best to serve our priorities, we are forced to deal with the fact that both the experiencing self and the remembering self matter. We do not want to endure long pain and short pleasure. Yet certain pleasures can make enduring suffering worthwhile. The peaks are important, and so is the ending.

So, I hope 2014 worked out well for you, especially the ending.

P.S : I was rather disappointed that I did not write a blogpost for the entire year. Wanted to record at least one to maintain my "minimum balance' in the account.