Overestimating The Future: Impact Bias

The Future Isn't as Intense as It Seems


Think back to a time when you predicted a major event would change your life entirely. A new job, a breakup, a new house. You waited, it happened, it changed something — and then it all went back to normal. The waves it created just weren't as tidal as you thought they'd be.

This is called "impact bias" — our tendency to overestimate the emotional impact of future events. This bias goes beyond personal experiences and influences our reactions to everything from political elections to environmental crises.

The impact bias arises in part due to our underestimation of our "psychological immune system." Our minds help us recover from emotional highs and lows faster than we predict, enabling us to return to our emotional norm quicker than expected. We often fail to properly understand the future context of an event ahead of time or we mentally overemphasize the differences between the future and the present while neglecting similarities that will create emotional stability.

The impact bias has a significant role in our daily lives, as it skews our expectations about the future and influences our decisions on both small and large scales. Although it is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid this bias entirely, we can account for it by not taking our own emotional projections too seriously.

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