The Peak-End Effect

The Idea

Edited and curated by @philhagspiel


Your friend’s birthday party was super lame. Nothing really was happening and the people were pretty boring, too. Several times, you considered leaving, but you dared not ruin the fun, so you stayed and nearly passed out from boredom. However, there was this one moment when everyone started singing along to The Killers. “… buuut it’s just the price I paaay!” That was fun. Oh, and just before you left this random dude told you that he loves your style. So unique, he says. Nice.

If, on the next day, your friend (who wasn’t invited) asks you how the party was, what will you tell them? Even though the party sucked for almost all the time you’ll likely tell them that it was pretty cool. Why? Because you don’t want to hurt the party thrower’s feelings? No. Because you will actually remember it to be pretty cool.

Introducing the Peak-End Effect.

It’s a cognitive bias that shapes how we remember past experiences. Instead of accurately recalling events, we tend to focus on the most intense moments and how things end.

If 90% of your vacation was awesome but there was this one extremely annoying incidenct and the checkout experience was horrible, you’ll likely remember the vacation as pretty bad. And the other way around.

The sobering truth is that, as humans, we’re terrible at remembering stuff. We construct our memories. And those memories influence what we’ll do in the future. So understanding human psychology (both ours and that of others) through the lens of the Peak-End Effect can help us create better memories for ourselves and those around us.

As managers, we can use this understanding to create memorable experiences for our team. Plan weekly highlights and end-of-week celebrations, wrap up meetings on a high note and incorporate engaging moments in presentations. In our personal lives, we can engineer our own trips, dates, parties, and work days to include peak moments and positive endings.


A few further resources you might like if you find the above idea interesting: