The Impact Bias

The Idea

Contributed by @philhagspiel |  Edited and curated by @philhagspiel

We tend to overestimate both the intensity and durability of future emotional events.




Taking Action


When we think about future events, we regularly try to predict our emotional reactions to that event (”How will this make me feel?”. This so-called affective forecasting influences our decisions, behaviors and preferences.

As humans, our predictions about our future emotions tend to be incorrect. The impact bias is a phenomenon studied widely in psychology and economics and it says that we typically overestimate the intensity or the duration of our future emotions (or both).

While we commonly correctly predict that an event will generate a positive or negative reaction, that reaction will not be as positive or as negative as we expect it to be. Similarly, we will project that our emotional reaction will last longer than it actually will.

There are several different reasons for this psychological tendency of overestimation or future emotions. Among others, 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 plays a significant role in our daily lives as it skews our expectations about the future and thus impacts our decisions on both small and large scales. While it is difficult (if not impossible) to avoid this bias entirely psychologically, we can account for it by not taking our own emotional projections too seriously.


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